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The ‘Let It Rip’ Wolverines and their quest for explosiveness

This Michigan offense has an identity.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The new look Michigan Wolverines offense has made it a point of emphasis this off-season to take their explosiveness to the next level.

Nearly every time head coach Jim Harbaugh has been interviewed the past month, he’s used the phrase ‘let it rip’, making it clear the offense is ready to roll. ‘Let it rip’ is a phrase that holds meaning for Harbaugh, as his former coach for the Indianapolis Colts, Ted Marchibroda, would tell him that before games during their run to the AFC Championship Game in 1995. “Let ‘er rip,” Marchibroda said. “That’s what I told Jim after he became the starter. And that’s the way I feel going into each game — let ‘er rip.” Now 25 years later that same advice is being given to Michigan. The result? A fairly explosive effort during their 49-24 victory over Minnesota. The offensive line won the battle in the trenches, running backs played physical and notched big gains, QB Joe Milton didn’t play tentative, receivers were flying around the field. Explosive plays were made on defense and special teams, too.

“Really proud of our team. I believe in them, I respect them and I trust them. Just wanted them to go out there and let it rip and they did that. It was fun. I was living every play with them,” Harbaugh said. “Honored to be their coach and go out there tonight and take the field with them and fight.”

Michigan had 481 yards of total offense, using a variety of their playmakers throughout the game. 9 players had receptions, 4 running backs were utilized, and Joe Milton chipped in 52 yards rushing. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and running backs coach Jay Harbaugh have mentioned Michigan aims to have more explosive plays this season, in the passing and run game alike. While there was a dose of explosion all around, it was glaringly apparent that Michigan may have an offensive line and stable of running backs that can create big runs this season. “We have really good backs, good ball carriers that, you know, pretty consistently put the ball where it’s supposed to go,” Harbaugh said earlier this month. “And way that most of defenses we see way they work is they’re going to, they’re going to send the ball where it’s supposed to go to the free hitter, whoever that ends to be a corner or safety, whoever is designed to be the guy that’s going to tackle the ball. And for us to take the step we need to as backs, we got to be able to take care of that guy, and be able to turn some of those four or five, six yard runs into into, you know, 15, 20, 30 yard runs.”

Michigan had three rushes longer than 20 yards. Zach Charbonnet had a huge 70-yard TD to tie the game at 7, Hassan Haskins had a 66-yard TD late, and Joe Milton had a smooth 23-yard scamper. The offensive line, tight ends, and full back Ben Mason created holes and lanes leading to the explosive runs.

The 2020 Michigan offense has the makings to be Jim Harbaugh’s most explosive U-M offense yet, and perhaps his most explosive collegiate offense since he won the Orange Bowl at Stanford with Andrew Luck. The variety within Michigan’s playbook, the weapons on the depth chart, how they can attack a team with power, finesse, and speed, bode well for Michigan to have consistent success this season.

“This offense, is what I call like a mutt of a dog you know, it’s the pretty dog walking down the road that you’re trying to figure out ‘what kind of dog is it?’,” Gattis said in 2019. “And for us we do a little bit of everything, so on offense there’s times where we can pick and choose what we do. I mean, that’s hard and challenging for defenses to prepare for us with the number of different things that we do. We pick and choose what we do and what we major in, in the emphasis whether or not who we’re playing each week to allow our kids to give them the correct gameplan to be successful.”

Michigan now has more pieces which allow them to vary their gameplan week to week and keep opposing defenses guessing. They’re not trying to squeak out victories, they’re aiming to blow teams out. They want to hit deep passes, have big runs, and receive huge gains on quick slants. An explosive offense has to be a confident one, and that’s the trait Joe Milton exhibited during, and after the game. “I felt great. I was comfortable. I didn’t panic as a first start. Like, I wasn’t scared,” Milton said. Milton went on to say he thought he did an outstanding job on his touch throws and was impressed with himself. That’s the type of mindset a successful quarterback has to have. Confidence.

While Michigan’s offense is far from a finished product with mistakes to correct, they showed flashes of what they can become. When viewing the film, there’s a lot to like. The win over Minnesota was a building block, and more explosion is to come. The ‘Let It Rip’ Wolverines continue their quest for explosiveness next Saturday when they take on the Michigan State Spartans.