Now that Thanksgiving is over, and you’re enjoying a leftover sandwich – or questioning your decision to attend the family gathering – it is time to move on to the next celebratory and momentous occasion. Not a birthday. Not Christmas. Not Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus… I’m talking about The Game. The Buckeyes and the Wolverines have battled each other to close out the regular season since 1935 (with only four exceptions), and as sad as I know it makes me, this means we’ve reached the end of another Big Ten regular season.
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened — is what every college football fan whispers internally, come December or January. Well, we’re not quite there yet, and we have the best game in all of sports to look forward to! This year’s version of The Rivalry will be a matchup between two top-five teams, both of which have championship aspirations. Everything is on the table for OSU and TTUN, and I think the football gods will deliver a classic to make up for 2020.
As discussed earlier this week, *ichigan boasts a top-10 defense, and I would consider that to be the primary strength of their team. Aidan Hutchinson and Co. have not played the world’s toughest schedule, but they are a talented and confident bunch. If we are listing team strengths or position groups in order, then I would put the Wolverines’ running game/RB duo only slightly behind that stout defense. Hassan Haskins is the thunder to Blake Corum’s lightning, and after surpassing 1,000 yards for the season, he is also this week’s Offensive Player to Watch.
Haskins, a former three-star recruit out of St. Louis, has been a steadying presence in the Wolverines’ backfield since 2019. After seeing action on special teams as a freshman in 2018, he stepped right into a timeshare as a sophomore. He appeared in 12 games as the 1B to Zach Charbonnet’s 1A and rushed for 622 yards and four touchdowns. Coaches clearly liked what they saw from Haskins in 2019, as his role was reversed during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Haskins took the “starting” gig from Charbonnet, and in six games, put up 375 yards. More impressively, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. He had zero receptions, which is almost hard to believe, but did find the endzone six times. *ichigan coaches, in a shocking turn of events, probably didn’t take the best approach with their backfield in 2020. Chris Evans had 25 total touches even though he is now playing a role for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL, Corum was probably forced into action before he was ready (2.8 YPC), and Haskins only averaged 10 carries per game. Haskins in particular should have and could have handled much more of the workload, as has been the case in 2021.
Now a senior, Haskins has finally broken through as a true lead back — even though he continues to work as part of a tandem. Corum has essentially missed the last three games, and though he is expected back against Ohio State, it is Haskins who has really shined during the second half of the season. In *ichigan’s last six games, Haskins has four 100-yard performances. Corum has one. Haskins has scored seven touchdowns during the same period, while Corum has scored three. Sure, Corum has been injured, but it goes to show you (or the UM staff) that Haskins is more than capable of carrying the load by himself.
Corum went down very early in the Indiana game, leaving Haskins as one of only two scholarship running backs available for the Wolverines. He punished the Hoosiers, to the tune of 168 yards and a touchdown. He was fed a career-high 27 carries and set the tone for future games. Stud freshman Donovan Edwards returned two weeks ago, but he only has five carries over the last two games combined (although, he did have 10 receptions against Maryland). Haskins has single-handedly kept the running game for *ichigan thriving, which is admirable given the fact that opposing defenses know what is coming.
One week after setting his personal best for carries against Indiana, Haskins topped it on the road at Penn State. He toted the rock 31 times against the Nittany Lions and added five catches — nearly doubling his season total. He added 20 carries for a pedestrian 78 yards against Maryland, but did score two touchdowns. In three games without Corum (one carry prior to his injury against IU), who was the team’s leading rusher at the time, Haskins has averaged 26 carries, 134 yards, and a touchdown per. This guy is a true workhorse.
His relentless motor has been a talking point for weeks. Since Blake Corum was sidelined, he's shouldered the increased load with a smile.— Aaron McMann (@AaronMcMann) November 17, 2021
Hassan Haskins is a self-described "workhorse" — and he won't stop running until Michigan wins. @MLive https://t.co/fnfGSsBdgJ
*ichigan’s RB coach, *ike Hart (he doesn’t deserve the letter either) has hyped up Haskins recently, saying he would be confident in giving the senior back 30 carries. Even in today’s game, where backfields are often by-committee, it’s hard to argue that Haskins is not capable of shouldering that sort of load consistently. He is solidly built at 6’1”, 220 pounds and has shown great durability throughout his career.
Ohio State’s run defense has quietly ascended to 11th-best in the country (YPG allowed), but Saturday will be a huge challenge. Yes, OSU limited *ichigan State’s Kenneth Walker to 25 yards last weekend, but that was primarily due to game script and the Heisman candidate being a bit banged up. The Wolverines should have a two-headed monster to throw at the Buckeyes, but even if Corum remains out, Haskins has proven himself to be one of the better running backs in the Big Ten. TTUN also has the added benefit of a solid defense, so I would be mildly surprised if they are forced into abandoning the run early.
Haskins is not the homerun hitter that TreVeyon Henderson is (only 4.9 YPC), but that does not make him any less effective. He is a grinder who welcomes contact, and he won’t shy away from running at Ohio State defenders. He leads the country in rushing first downs, implying that he knows how to find the sticks and help keep his team on the field. And that will be of the utmost importance to the Wolverines. If their offense is able to stay on the field, that means OSU’s offense is not. That is the recipe for a *ichigan victory. Here’s hoping Jim Harbaugh ruins the recipe once again and is forced to swallow another loss… Go Bucks!!