It was not the prettiest win in the Jim Harbaugh era — in fact, it could be the ugliest — but the Michigan Wolverines finally earned a victory for the first time since the opening weekend against Minnesota. Rutgers is obviously not the most intimidating opponent, but any positive sings from the Wolverines should be celebrated. A win is a win, and there is finally some hope on the horizon.
Unfortunately, all of that optimism lies with just one side of the ball, but at least the offense looks like it might be ready to start clicking. Michigan had a clear standout at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver for the first time in forever, and that at least lays the foundation for something going forward. The blueprint is there; it remains to be seen if this plan can now be executed.
Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet ended the 2019 season nearly neck-and-neck, but it seemed like 2020 was set up for the latter to take over. Charbonnet was the starter to open 2019, he came to Ann Arbor with higher recruiting accolades, and he was given the first carry of this season against the Golden Gophers. Unfortunately, it has just not worked out.
After three games of trying to utilize both backs, as well as rotate in Chris Evans and Blake Corum, the coaching staff finally decided to just pick one player and focus on him. Haskins was the back chosen, and he was more than up for the task, rushing 24 times for 111 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
It was not a lights-out performance, but this was good enough to make this a TREND. With the offense struggling, there is no need to overcomplicate things and try to evenly disburse carries among three or four different options. Michigan needs to simply feed the player it trusts most, and based on goal line opportunities this year and Saturday’s win over Rutgers, Haskins is clearly that player.
A new top receiver is born?
With all respect to Ronnie Bell, the departures of Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins left a sizeable hole at the top of the wide receiver depth chart. The player I thought could step up was Cornelius Johnson, the only true big-bodied threat at a position group full of slot guys and speedsters.
The sophomore made a splash with an excellent touchdown grab against Indiana, but it was his performance against the Scarlet Knights that I was hoping to see this season. Even with the early fumble, Johnson had a great game, snagging five balls for 105 yards and two scores. He certainly looked like the type of player a passing game can be built around.
However, the idea of Johnson being the primary target really seems like a TRICK. He is certainly a good player and should continue to see opportunities, but the Michigan offense was at its best on Saturday when Cade McNamara was making the easy throws. For the redshirt freshman quarterback to succeed, Michigan should keep utilizing slants and RPOs and plays that allow him to get the ball out of his hands early (speed in space, anyone?).
This is nothing against Johnson, and has everything to do with recalibrating the scheme. McNamara does not have Joe Milton’s arm, but he seems capable of reading defenses and making good decisions. The Wolverines have plenty of players that can do a ton of damage with their legs, so it makes most sense to quickly drop the ball off to them rather than hit Johnson on too many deep shots downfield.