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Michigan has no plans to deviate from four-back rotation

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

The drop-off in Michigan’s run game from Week 1 to Week 2 was significant, but don’t expect any change in philosophy.

Michigan has four backs — veterans Hassan Haskins and Chris Evans, sophomore Zach Charbonnet and freshman Blake Corum — and running backs coach Jay Harbaugh believes his game plan to play all four is sound. Expect to see more of the same when No. 23 Michigan faces No. 13 Indiana on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

“Don’t anticipate anything changing in that regard,” Harbaugh said Monday on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show.

Indiana is 10th in the Big Ten defending the run. Through two games, the Hoosiers have allowed an average 185.5 yards rushing but allowed only three touchdowns. The Wolverines rank fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (204 yards per game) and have a conference-best eight rushing scores. Harbaugh said the backs need to “refine details” as the season progresses.

Michigan's ground game had a breakout performance in the opener at Minnesota with 256 yards on 31 carries, an 8.3 yards-per-carry average, and five touchdowns. The backs were responsible for 195 yards on 20 carries and four touchdowns. In the loss to Michigan State last Saturday, the Wolverines gained 152 yards on 34 carries but the running back production was down significantly. The quartet combined for 84 yards on 21 carries.

Through two games, Haskins leads the team with 138 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Charbonnet has 73 yards on nine carries and a score, Corum has 39 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns, and Evans has 29 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

Michigan running back Hassan Haskins

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about Corum, the speedy freshman, Monday during his weekly news conference. While responding, he mentioned all four backs.

“Continue to see Blake doing extremely well and then Hassan goes in and Hassan does really well," Jim Harbaugh said. "Zach Charbonnet also plays really well, Chris Evans plays really well. It’s a unique situation. Talked a lot of good things about the running backs, but they’re playing extremely well. And Blake’s a heckuva good football player obviously and brings a lot to the offense.”

Corum adds a burst of speed to the group, and Jay Harbaugh described him as “really explosive, super fast.” He said the beauty of having four capable backs is they all bring something different to the game. That’s why he sees a reason to get all of them touches.

“The rotation is a little bit of everything,” he said. “It’s putting guys in a situation to do the things that they’re really good at.

"I have a hard time imagining a scenario where all the guys don’t play, just because they all do bring something different to the table. If they were all more similar, there wouldn’t be a reason to. But the fact that they provide little different assets to the offense, it gives merit to all the guys playing as well as if they’re performing the way that they need to."

As offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and the staff game plan each week, Harbaugh said he has an idea what the play-call script will be, the sequence of calls and plans accordingly which back will run certain plays. Evans and Corum are also leaned on for their pass-catching ability. All the backs participate in pass-protection — that’s been a standard at Michigan.

Harbaugh said the backs need to be balanced in their games if they’re going to play and can be called on for any situation.

“You can’t be a specialist, so to speak, where you can only run these types of runs or run these types of routes,” he said. “You can’t limit yourself because if you do that, then you get into a real problem in terms of substitutions, as well as in terms of tendencies. With the backs, we’ve always preached to them about trying to become complete players where you don’t have anything that you can’t do. If we can establish that as a baseline of, hey, we can have a freshman Blake Corum in there on protection downs and that’s really helpful. Then the defense can’t tee off every time he’s in there, thinking this is gonna be for sure a run to him or only a perimeter run.

“Having that balance is key and the way that guys prepare rounding their games out makes that really possible for us to be well-rounded like that.”

Twitter: @chengelis