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Michigan's Ways catches on as devastating blocker

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Sure, Maurice Ways came to Michigan, of which he's been a fan since he was 7, to catch passes, just like his idol, Braylon Edwards.

So far, he has one.

"I want a couple more," he said, laughing, the other day. "But whatever the team needs me to do, whatever particular play, it doesn't matter."

What the team needs Ways to do right now, mostly, is block, block and block some more — and he's happy to oblige.

In fact, Ways was very much responsible for one of Michigan's biggest plays on offense this season, and it wasn't by catching the ball.

While Michigan fans might remember the amazing 60-yard touchdown run by De'Veon Smith against BYU, what they might not've noticed: After Smith stunningly emerged from a pile of Michigan and BYU players, he only was able to break the run because Ways had manhandled BYU defensive back Kai Nacua and removed him from the picture.

"Have you seen that play?" Harbaugh said a couple days later, speaking of the signature play in the signature win for a 4-1 Michigan team. "That was a great block by Moe Ways. That was a touchdown block by Moe Ways."

Blocking has become a major focus for Michigan's receiving corps, in some ways even more than actually catching the football.

To a man, from Amara Darboh right on down to the bottom of the depth chart, it's a big deal. And it's appreciated.

"Tremendously," sophomore offensive lineman Mason Cole said, when asked how the receivers are doing in that area. "When we run the ball inside and they come flying in and crack a safety or whatever it might be, it's a fun thing to watch.

"They do a really good job, and they work really hard at that."

There's motivation to work hard at it, of course.

In Ways' case, he might not otherwise see the field.

Ways, a Metro Detroit native and Detroit Country Day alum, doesn't look at it that way, of course.

"That's Michigan. Michigan has always been a run-first team," he said. "Receivers, you gotta block the play, and that hasn't changed, no matter who the coach was or what year it was. Just coming to Michigan, they run the ball first. You've gotta be a physical receiver.

"That's just a common fact coming to Michigan."

And it'll be on display — and be of utmost important — Saturday against a Northwestern team that comes in 5-0 and ranked No. 13 in the country, on the strength of one of the top defenses in the country, one that allows only 117.4 rushing yards a game.

The Wildcats are ranked No. 26 in the country in rushing defense, and even better, No. 7, in passing defense, at 130 yards a game.

Ways and his fellow receivers will have their work cut for them, and not just in trying to get open.

"You've gotta be a full wide receiver," Ways said. "You can't just be a good pass blocker or a good catcher, you've gotta have the whole package. That's what I'm learning now."

Ways, 19, said blocking was something he worked on in high school, too, though let's be honest. In high school, blocking takes a back seat to catching passes -- and he caught 106 of them for 2,218 yards and 25 touchdowns, all of that coming in his junior and senior seasons at Country Day.

A sophomore at Michigan, he has just the one catch against UNLV.

Again, no big deal. There are more ways for Moe Ways to contribute.

"When De'Veon had that long touchdown run, you never know when they're gonna break one, so you make sure you make block hard every play to the whistle," Ways said. "As a group, actually, we all want to be great blockers. We take pride in that.

"We want to be known as one of the best blocking groups in the country."