Edwards catches praise from Harbaugh with breakout game for Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

College Park, Md. — The hints were there in September when running backs coach Mike Hart described freshman running back Donovan Edwards as “special” and one who can split out and run routes and catch, then use his speed as an exclamation point.

Edwards, the former West Bloomfield High standout, did just that as he led Michigan with 10 catches for 170 yards including a 77-yard touchdown pass from Cade McNamara in the Wolverines’ 59-18 win at Maryland on Saturday. Michigan is 10-1, 7-1 Big Ten. They return home to face rival Ohio State, also 10-1, for a shot at the Big Ten championship game next Saturday.

Michigan defensive back DJ Turner returns an interception of a pass by Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa for a touchdown during the first half.

“We’ve known about his ability to catch the ball and run routes,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of Edwards. “It started back in spring practice after he came off his surgery on his thumb. He was in a cast for the first three weeks and he was averaging seven catches a day to the point he was even an example for everybody. This guy doesn’t drop anything, and he’s wearing a hard cast on his hand. The work he’s put in, he’s got so many built-up reps.”

Edwards’ 170 yards was the highest single-game receiving total for Michigan this season.

“That’s something we’ve seen in practice ever since he got here, his elusiveness, (and) his ability to catch the ball is at a really high level for a running back,” McNamara said. “I’m so fired up that he was a big part of this game plan, that I was able to get the ball to him.”

Blake Corum has missed the better part of three games since injuring his right ankle against Indiana late in the first quarter. Hassan Haskins, who scored two touchdowns against the Terps and now has 13 this season, has handled the bulk of the running game in his absence. But Corum also had been the go-to catching out of the backfield. He has 20 catches for 137 yards and one touchdown this season.

Getting the running backs involved in that aspect of the game has been important this season. Harbaugh was dazzled by Edwards’ performance, especially the 77-yard touchdown.

“As soon as he caught that pass, I could see the cutback coming because I’d seen it in practice a bunch of times,” Harbaugh said. “He was rolling. How fast did he look? Really fast. I’ll make this statement, and I don’t like to make a lot of big, hyperbolic statements — it was a great performance, all-time record, but this will be a blip on the radar of the career of Donovan Edwards. He’s destined for great things.”

At this point, Edwards had joined Harbaugh in the postgame interview and sat quietly to his right. As he heard the comments from Harbaugh, Edwards quietly accepted the praise.

“Appreciate that, man,” Edwards said, softly.

Later, when asked about Harbaugh’s remarks, Edwards didn’t shy away from agreeing.

“I believe it for myself,” he said. “I think it’s important to have confidence within yourself.”

Edwards said he knew eventually he would factor into a game like this. Because Maryland ran so much man-defense, he relished the opportunity to “work against the linebacker.”

“I feel like it was a good moment for me to showcase my talent,” Edwards said. “I believe every week I just attack the week like it was my first game of the season.”

Harbaugh said after last week’s win at Penn State that there are so many options that each week it seems a different player emerges and makes a big play or has a strong game. In the win at Penn State, it was tight end Erick All who stepped up and made the winning touchdown reception. This week, it was Edwards.

Watch: Highlights from Michigan-Maryland football

“We know we’re very deep at playmakers on the offensive side of the ball,” receiver A.J. Henning said. “Whoever’s number is called, we know they’re going to make the play because we’ve got so many reps at it, everybody’s so prepared for it. his number was called tonight. I had no doubt in my mind he was going to make those plays.”

Special teams TD

Jay Harbaugh, Michigan’s special teams coordinator, recognized an opportunity to pull off some trickery after studying Maryland and executed a kickoff return on which Michael Barrett, a former high school quarterback, took the return, dropped back 2 yards and then lateraled to Henning. Henning went 81 yards for the touchdown.

“That was great game planning by Jay Harbaugh,” Harbaugh said. “The execution was flawless. They do that cross-field kick once or twice a game. Our plan was, the first time they did it, we’d activate the throw back. So it was really an audible on the result of where the ball was kicked to. They ran that cross-field kick and Mike Barrett threw an absolute dime back to A.J. Henning. Trente Jones was rolling out in front of A.J. and A.J. put it into top gear as well.”

Henning said the play was drawn up for this game, and they had about three reps of it during practice last week

“Mike B didn’t throw it that good all week, I’m not gonna lie,” Henning said, laughing. “He made a great throw in the game and those guys sealed the deal on the outside with the blocks and gave me a bunch of space.”

Personnel update

Safety Brad Hawkins left the field early in the game but returned to the sideline after halftime. It’s unclear what was bothering Hawkins physically.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be (a long-term issue),” Harbaugh said. “I know what happened, but I don’t think it’s significant. But I don’t know for sure.”

Taylor Upshaw didn’t make the trip and Harbaugh said he is “working through something.”

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: chengelis