Breaking Down Michigan's Running Back Rotation

Everyone was curious to see how Michigan's running backs would be used with Mike Hart running the position.
Publish date:

Time after time last year Michigan fans seemed puzzled by the running back rotation. There didn't seem to be much rhythm involved and against Penn State specifically, after a great series by Hassan Haskins that resulted in a rushing touchdown, he disappeared for several possessions. That prompted Jim Harbaugh to hire Mike Hart to coach the running backs and move Jay Harbaugh back to tight ends.

Michigan fans of course love the idea of Hart coaching at U-M, but it's not just because he's Michigan's all-time leading rusher. It's because he's a damn good running backs coach. He's proved it at every stop over the course of his career and really drove it home at Indiana over the last four seasons. Saturday was everyone's first chance to see how he'd do at Michigan and he did not disappoint.

Haskins started the game but was relatively ineffective on his first three carries totaling just nine yards. Blake Corum stepped in and popped his first carry for 18 yards, which sort of set the tone for him for the rest of the day. Over the course of the next two and half quarters it was a healthy dose of both Corum and Haskins. Both backs are very talented and bring something different to the table, so playing them both certainly makes sense. The most encouraging part about the rotation was how Hart allowed each back to get into a rhythm. While Corum was cooking, he was in there. He didn't disappear for any extended amount of time and when he was really effective he was on the field. The same can be said for Haskins and even freshman Donovan Edwards later in the game. 

Some of the usage was dictated by the situations and in Edwards' case, the status of the game. Jim Harbaugh said that the freshman would play, but it became a no brainer once Michigan got out to a big lead. 

At the end of the day, Corum finished with 14 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. He also had two catches for 22 yards and another score. Haskins finished with 13 carries for 70 yards and a score. Both had very effective days, but in the flow of the game and looking at the big picture, the rotation needed to be a specific way, and it was. 

Looking at both backs from a 30,000-foot view, Corum was the hotter back and that's how Hart handled it. He was on the field for 24 snaps to Haskins' 20 and finished with one more carry. Corum also doubled up Haskins when it came to passing plays, 8-4. According to Pro Football Focus, Corum graded out better than Haskins in every major category for a running back — rushing plays (where they actually carry the ball), passing plays (where they're out in routes) and pass blocking plays (where they stay in to protect the quarterback). That's very encouraging for the sophomore back, but even more encouraging because of how Hart utilized his talented room. He's obviously not looking at PFF grades on the sidelines, but he's plugged in, seeing what's happening on the field in real time and making decisions that seem to be based on rhythm, flow and frankly, common sense.

Corum and Haskins, along with Edwards, give Michigan some incredible options at the running back position. Couple their talents with Hart's knowledge, decision making and approach, and there should be positive results week after week. It's only one game, but Hart is doing things the right way already.