Coming into the 2019 season, the Michigan offense was looking pretty strong across the board. With a returning starting quarterback and solid offensive line, plus multiple NFL-caliber receivers and a shiny new offensive coordinator, almost all arrows pointed up for the Wolverines. The only real question mark stood at running back, with little production returning from the year prior.
Six weeks into the season and it seems like the script has be turned upside down. Quarterback is a constant complaint, as is play calling, and the electric pass catchers have not been given nearly enough opportunities. Comically, the one area where Michigan can feel somewhat good is at running back, where the rushing has been solid when the blocking holds up.
There were plenty of questions regarding who would earn the lead role in 2019, but Zach Charbonnet answered them quickly. However, after a 33-carry workload against Army, head coach Jim Harbaugh said he would reduce his workload, which has been the case so far since that game.
Spelling Charbonnet have been Christian Turner and Tru Wilson, but lately another name has emerged. Redshirt freshman Hassan Haskins saw just three total carries during the first three games but saw that number jump up to nine against Rutgers and 12 this past week against Illinois. His performance in this limited playing time should earn him some more reps.
Haskins is a three-star running back recruit who made the switch to linebacker, only to return to his natural position during the offseason. He made a few special teams appearances last year but was able to keep his redshirt. Going into this season, there was a thought that he could compete for maybe the third or fourth running back spot, but expectations were not too high.
Accordingly, Haskins did not get his first real opportunity until the game against Rutgers, where he was the third running back to see action. He received four carries inside the red zone in the first half, but was unable to get into the end zone despite a couple of short-yardage tries.
Nevertheless, Haskins got another drive near the end of the game with Joe Milton at the helm. He ripped off two 11-yard runs and a 15-yard gain on three consecutive plays before again being stuffed at the goal line.
Haskins was expected to thrive in a short-yardage role, but his three big runs may be what caught the eye of the coaching staff. After Charbonnet opened the Illinois game on a tear, Haskins was brought in on a third-and-1 situation. The result? A very impressive 25-yard scamper to the house.
He followed this up with a big 28-yard run later in the half, and he would go on to add a 24-yard rush in the fourth quarter. Even though all of the running backs saw some action against a struggling defense, Haskins’s career-high 12 carries should not be discounted. When the day was over, the redshirt freshman had an impressive 125 yards and a score at over 10 yards a carry.
The Scarlet Knights and Fighting Illini may not be the stiffest competition, but any running back who turns in such a high percentage of double-digit yardage runs is worthy of some attention. Haskins easily leads the team with 7.3 yards per carry and does not appear to be a fluke.
Despite his ability to get to the next level, he will need to improve his short yardage production. A lot of this may be on the offensive line, but multiple times already, Haskins has not been able to convert a short third or fourth down situation, which is an area the team could really use some stability.
More opportunities are in store, however, as Haskins surely set himself up for some more playing time after two solid outings. The running back room is still crowded, but the second spot after Charbonnet is very much up for grabs. Haskins has a ton of potential and has looked good in limited carries so far. Michigan has nothing to lose by giving him more action, and that decision might be a difference maker down the stretch.