'They didn't stop the running game': Michigan barrels past Washington to 2-0 start
Ann Arbor — Apparently Michigan players really meant it when they said they wanted the offensive identity to be physical by pounding the ball in the run game.
That was the focus in the season opener and again in a 31-10 win over Washington before 108,345 at Michigan Stadium in a prime-time game Saturday. In what was dubbed a “maize out," the fans dressed accordingly while the players broke out all-blue alternative uniforms.
But there was nothing alternative about the Wolverines’ style of play. They said they wanted to run the ball, and that’s what they did.
In a game that lost some luster nationally after then-No. 20 Washington (0-2) was upset by Montana, an FCS team, a week earlier, the Michigan players still looked at this as a statement game after winning convincingly last week against Western Michigan.
Just as the Wolverines (2-0) did a week earlier, they relied on the run. And relied on it. And relied on it some more, feeling a little bit like a playbook from the 1980s.
Michigan, which gained 335 yards rushing in the season-opening win, had 343 rushing yards on 56 carries against the Huskies, with Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins — Corum last week referred to them as “thunder and lightning” — handling the bulk of the offensive production. Corum had 21 carries for 171 yards and three touchdowns, including the team’s last score on a 4-yard run with 2:28 left. Haskins had 27 carries for 155 yards and a score. Corum finished with 231 all-purpose yards.
Quarterback Cade McNamara was 7-of-15 passing for 44 yards. His longest completion was for 33 yards to Cornelius Johnson.
“Going into the game, we’re not going to win by throwing the ball outside the numbers,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Those corners are really good. We were going to fare a lot better running the ball (56) times than we would have throwing it (56) times. Our guys are good, and they came up with the plays when they had to. They didn’t stop the running game. Told you we were going to lean on Hassan and Blake, they’re that good, too.”
The Wolverines built a 10-0 lead in the first half after Jake Moody kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal and Corum scored on a 67-yard run following a 3-yard plunge by Michael Barrett on a fake punt.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense, directed by first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald, pitched a shutout in the first half, opening with three three-and-outs. The Wolverines held the Huskies to 10 second-half points and 50 rushing yards for the game. Washington was 1-for-4 on fourth down, including late in the game after reaching Michigan's 44-yard line.
Linebacker Josh Ross led the team with 11 tackles, while Aidan Hutchinson was credited with 2½ sacks. Michigan had seven tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.
“They were holding onto the ball longer than Western was,” Hutchinson said. “I kinda had a feeling we were going to get after the quarterback.”
This was the first game for the Wolverines without captain and leading receiver Ronnie Bell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, and there were plenty of questions all week about who would fill that void. It was difficult to decipher an answer in the game. McNamara, who attempted only 11 passes in the first game, threw the ball 15 times against the Huskies. If Michigan isn’t going to live and die by the run, it will have to get its receivers involved.
“We know we have good players in the passing game,” Harbaugh said. “We know our guys can catch the ball, run routes. We can throw it. It was just so good in the running game, we felt good — until they take it away.”
During game week before the opener, left tackle Ryan Hayes was asked if the offense was entering the season with an identity, something that usually takes a team a few weeks to develop. He said then it was about being physical and running the ball hard. This was also the first game with the starting five that included Zak Zinter at right guard. Zinter, who is still playing with his right hand in a wrap, played but didn’t start in the opener.
“This is what we envisioned happening,” Hayes said. “We didn’t play perfect tonight by any means. With the backs we have, we can make mistakes and it gets covered up by them. And they can make mistakes and it gets covered up by us. We’re working well together, but we still have a long ways to go.”