Hassan Haskins runs with 'heart,' carries the load for Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Piscataway, N.J. – Sometimes with Michigan’s running back rotation, it has felt like the every-back-gets-a-trophy type of situation. But all backs are not created equal, and that goes for how carries are shared.

Michigan has four running backs – Hassan Haskins, Zach Charbonnet, Chris Evans and Blake Corum. And before Saturday night’s game at Rutgers there had been inconsistent rotation – often head-scratching and seemed forced – that proved to be unproductive.

In Michigan’s 48-42 comeback victory over Rutgers in triple overtime at SHI Stadium, Haskins emerged as the lead back and ran hard. The more carries he got, the better he was as the game went on.

Michigan's Hassan Haskins spins away from Rutgers' Brendon White during the second half.

Haskins had seven carries for 15 yards in the first half and then turned it on in the second with 18 for 94. He finished with 25 carries for 109 yards and one touchdown scored in the third overtime, which ultimately was the game-winner.

For context, he entered the game with 21 carries for 163 yards and three touchdowns. The week before in a blowout loss to Wisconsin, he had one carry for six yards.

“I just got in a rhythm,” Haskins said after the game. “It was a good thing getting a couple more carries. Any carries I’m good with; it was a blessing.”

Running backs have often said they get better as a game goes on. They get in a rhythm and with that feel for a game, develop a sense what the offensive line is doing and they see holes better.

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Haskins leads Michigan’s backs with 46 carries for 272 yards; he has lost only four yards this season. He averages 5.9 yards a carry and has four touchdowns. Charbonnet is next with 19 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, Corum has 50 yards on 23 carries and two scores, and Evans has 12 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown.

The run game had stalled the last two weeks in the midst of Michigan’s three-game losing streak. After rushing for 256 yards and five touchdowns in the opener against Minnesota, the Wolverines had 152 yards and three rushing touchdowns in a loss to Michigan State. Then, at Indiana, Michigan ran for 13 yards on 18 carries and 47 yards on 19 carries against Wisconsin.

Against Rutgers, which Michigan trailed, 17-0, it was a game of sparks for the Wolverines. Backup quarterback Cade McNamara took over late in the second quarter and quickly orchestrated a touchdown drive and took Michigan to field-goal range the next possession. The offensive line, faced with yet another injury change with Zach Carpenter filling in for injured Andrew Vastardis, also seemed to click as the game rolled on, and the receivers got into a rhythm with McNamara.

But as McNamara pointed out after the game, his job is enhanced when the run game is churning, and that’s the importance of Haskins’ hard running that offered the balance the offense has been missing.

“I just knew back in my mind I had to get yards,” said Haskins, who had played linebacker before making the move to running back last season. “Every yard counts, every inch counts. In the back of my mind, I just run hard, it’s naturally what I do.”

The offensive line in its latest configuration also seemed to come alive. Both starting tackles missed a third game, so Karsen Barnhardt was at left tackle again, and right guard Andrew Stueber was back in at right tackle with freshman Zak Zinter at right guard and Carpenter getting the starter at center. Only left guard Chuck Filiaga has started every game this season.

“I thought his play – talk about heart,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “The amount of runs Hassan had that were yards after contact in this game – tough, efficient, outstanding runs. It was tremendous. I thought there was some really good play in the line. It was just the time in the game when the line was coming off the ball in a way that they hadn’t up to this point.

“There was a switch there that really flipped. Zach Carpenter, a redshirt freshman, next to true freshman Zak Zinter, I thought he flipped the switch in a way that was tremendous. Karsen Barnhardt, a redshirt freshman – a lot of freshmen and sophomores played their hearts out.”

Haskins said he knew heading into the game he would be getting “a little bit more carries” and it played out in his “favor.” He said he works hard every practice and that was consistent last week.

The running backs met last week, Haskins said, about what needed to change to increase productivity.

“We’ve got four great running backs,” he said. “We all came together and was talking, the yards we put up is unacceptable. We’ve got to do our job and try our best to get as many yards we can get. We put our mindset in that we’re going to run it hard every play no matter anything.”

And that's exactly what Haskins did.