After rushing for 256 yards last week at Minnesota, the Michigan Wolverines’ football ground game was expected to have similar success on Saturday against Michigan State at The Big House.
It did not play out that way, however, with the club unable to develop any kind of consistent rhythm on the ground … especially between the tackles.
U-M compiled 152 rushing yards, but averaged a pedestrian 4.5 yards per carry (clubs who averaged 4.5 yards per rush as a team last year finished 59th in the nation, and 56th in 2018).
Head coach Jim Harbaugh once again employed Michigan’s four-man rotating backfield, with sophomore Zach Charbonnet, redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins, fifth-year senior Chris Evans and freshman Blake Corum residing as the contributors.
The numbers they posted weren’t pretty, however. Charbonnet registered three yards on five carries, while Evans posted 10 yards on three touches. Corum’s stat line was much of the same, accumulating 15 yards on five attempts.
All three of the aforementioned rushers tallied 3.3 yards per attempt or less. The lone Wolverine running back who ended the day with a respectable stat line was Haskins, who concluded with 56 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
“Their d-line was working,” the redshirt sophomore said afterward, while trying to diagnose the rushing struggles. “I don’t know what to say on that. We just have to get better at executing and making those first downs.”
Fifty-nine of Michigan’s 152 yards on the ground came from redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Milton, who finished the afternoon as the Maize and Blue’s leading rusher.
An offensive line that had blocked so well last week at Minnesota wasn’t able to create holes with any kind of consistency against the Spartans, yielding six tackles for loss (it only gave up three last week).
The team who won the rushing battle had come out victorious in the rivalry 45 of the past 50 meetings entering Saturday, but that pattern didn’t hold true in this year’s edition (U-M owned the rushing advantage, 152-126).
Joe Milton Endures An Up-And-Down Afternoon Through The Air
Milton finished the afternoon 32-of-51 for 300 yards, but failed to find the end zone through the air. One positive, however, was that he didn’t throw any interceptions for the second week in a row.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback’s 62.7 completion percentage was respectable, but he missed several open receivers downfield throughout the afternoon.
His 300 yards, meanwhile, went down as the second most a Michigan quarterback had ever thrown for against the Spartans, trailing only the 384 Shea Patterson compiled last season. Prior to 2019, Tom Brady’s 285 yards in a 34-31 loss to MSU in 1999 had stood as the record.
“Joe made a lot of incredible plays,” Harbaugh said after the loss. “Early in the game I thought he was tucking it, bringing the ball down and trying to run the ball in the first quarter too much, but that settled down.
“He hung in the pocket pretty darn well after that, and made some big time throws. He had some exceptional throws. We’d be in rhythm, then we wouldn’t; then we wouldn’t be in rhythm, and then we’d get it. We didn’t stay in rhythm throughout the drive like we wanted to.”
Milton distributed the ball to a plethora of different players once again on Saturday, connecting with 11 different targets through the air after hooking up with nine separate players last weekend.
Michigan as a team attempted 52 passes against MSU (Haskins also threw one out of the wildcat formation), marking the most the Wolverines had thrown in a single game since it had 54 in a 2004 loss at Ohio State.
After the Wolverine offense looked explosive last week in Minneapolis, it lacked chunk yardage plays on Saturday. The Maize and Blue ripped off just one play of 25 yards or longer – a 26-yard pass from Milton to freshman wideout Roman Wilson in the second quarter.
• Milton posted career-highs in several passing categories on Saturday, including attempts (51), completions (32) and passing yards (300). His previous career-bests in all three areas occurred last week at Minnesota when he connected on 15 of his 22 throws for 225 yards with a touchdown and no picks.
• Michigan did not commit a turnover on Saturday, and has yet to give the ball away this season.
• Junior receiver Ronnie Bell had the best statistical game of his career last year against Michigan State, hauling in nine grabs for 150 yards. He only had four receptions for 46 yards this time around.
• Sophomore tight end Erick All had just three career receptions entering Saturday, but hauled in three catches for 13 yards against the Spartans.
• U-M posted 481 yards last week against Minnesota and 452 against MSU. The Wolverines compiled at least 452 yards in a game only five times all of last season.
• Wilson had the best outing of his short collegiate career on Saturday, registering career-highs with five catches and 71 yards. His 26-yard reception in the second quarter was the longest of his U-M tenure, surpassing an 18-yarder he had last week at Minnesota.
• Sophomore wideout Cornelius Johnson’s five receptions and 52 yards were both career-highs. He has now had his two best performances against the Spartans, reeling in a 39-yard touchdown in last year’s edition.
• Haskins’ two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the seventh of his career. Three of those seven have come this season. His pass out of the wildcat in the second quarter, meanwhile, was the first passing attempt of his Michigan tenure. It was intended for redshirt junior tight end Carter Selzer, but fell incomplete. It was also the first time Selzer had ever been targeted in a game.
“I saw my man Selzer was open,” Haskins explained in the postgame. “It was my fault … I just had to put it up more and they wouldn’t have gotten to it.”
• Milton’s 59 rushing yards were the most he had ever compiled in a game, slightly surpassing the 52 he had last week at Minnesota. He led the team in rushing on Saturday.
• Fifth-year senior tight end Nick Eubanks made his 2020 debut after missing last week’s game.
• Sophomore receiver Giles Jackson’s seven receptions and 58 yards were both career-highs.
• Redshirt junior right tackle Jalen Mayfield departed the game with injury in the second half, after remaining grounded on the field for a bit following a play.
“Jalen had x-rays after the game and they were negative,” Harbaugh revealed in the postgame.
• Freshman wideout A.J. Henning’s 15-yard reception in the first quarter was the longest play of his career. His previous high was a 14-yard grab he had last week at Minnesota.
• Bell and All were the two pass catchers Milton targeted most often on Saturday, with each player seeing nine passes thrown their way.
• Corum’s two touchdowns were the first two scores of his collegiate career. His first came on an eight-yard rush in the game’s opening frame and then on a one-yard plunge in the third quarter. He is the second Wolverine to post a multiple-rushing touchdown game this season, with Haskins having done so last week in Minneapolis.
“Blake brings everything,” Haskins exclaimed in the postgame.”He brings agility and all that stuff to the table. I love Blake.”
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