Josh Gattis and the Michigan Wolverines utilized a variety of running backs the past two seasons. There has been a lot of movement with the depth chart in recent history, but one mainstay in the rotation out of the backfield has been Hassan Haskins.
Haskins has been the most consistent runner for the Wolverines over the past two seasons and new running backs coach and former Michigan back Mike Hart will have a potential workhorse to rely on in his first season coaching the position. The two will hope to revitalize a running game that ranked 94th in rushing yards per game a season ago.
The story so far
Haskins committed to play for Michigan all the way back in 2017, with the Wolverines being his most notable offer by quite some margin. The Eureka, Missouri product had offers from Illinois State, Indiana State, Memphis and Eastern Michigan. Purdue was his only other Power 5 conference offer. The three-star back was ranked 975th in the country and 49th at his position.
As a freshman, Haskins was redshirted but saw three games on special teams, earning his first varsity letter with the program. He would spend the early part of his career at linebacker, as he did in high school, before moving full-time to running back.
In his second season, Zach Charbonnet burst onto the scene as a freshman. He had 40-plus carries in the first two games of the season and had almost 200 yards to show for it. Then, the Wolverines were blown out against Wisconsin after running the ball for just 40 yards in the game.
Charbonnet was injured after 33 carries in the close win over Army. Christian Turner, Tru Wilson and Haskins all began vying for those lost touches over the next few weeks. But it was Haskins who emerged as the best of the bunch.
The redshirt freshman had a career day against Illinois, running for 125 yards on 12 carries and a score. After a loss to No. 7 Penn State the following week, the Wolverines were 4-2 heading into a big game with No. 8 Notre Dame. Haskins ran for a career-high (still to this day) 149 yards on 20 carries. He accounted for half of the 303 yards on the ground in a 45-14 drubbing of the Fighting Irish.
Haskins finished his first full collegiate season at running back with the second most yard (563) and carries (103) on the team with four touchdowns to boot. He worked his way to being named an All-Big Ten honorable mention for his play in a breakout season.
Expectations were high for the Michigan backfield in 2020 as both Charbonnet and Haskins remained with the program. Chris Evans also returned after one season away from the program, and top recruit Blake Corum also joined the bunch. Some may have called it the deepest unit on the team. Unfortunately, they finished in the bottom half of college football in yards per game while averaging 4.6 yards per carry, which was tied for 48th in the country. The unbalance of the room was notable as it seemed difficult for any rusher to get into a groove as all four of the above rushers received multiple attempts almost every game.
The Michigan offense was far from successful and the players were not put in a position to succeed. Inconsistency at quarterback doomed the Wolverines’ hopes of having a coherent offense, and the running backs suffered because of it. The revolving door of running backs was frustrating, as it seemed no one could get in a groove with the offense.
Haskins received less than 10 carries a game for each of the first four games. In his first 14 touches from the field, three of them were for touchdowns, including a 66-yard house call against Minnesota. After receiving just one carry in the blowout loss to Wisconsin mid-year, everyone knew something had to change.
In the last two weeks of the season, the redshirt sophomore back had 40 carries for 112 yards and three touchdowns. Over two-thirds of his carries came in the last two weeks of the six-game season. At year’s end, Haskins led the Wolverines with 61 carries and 375 yards.
Outlook moving forward
Haskins will come into Ann Arbor after the offseason under the assumption he is the No. 1 back. If Michigan learned anything about its ground game in 2021, it was that good things happen when you get the ball in Haskins’ hands. He isn’t the most explosive guy in the world, but he is tough to bring down and is shifty enough to break out some long runs when blocking develops correctly.
The problem remains of having too many eggs in the basket. Corum had a strong season last year as a freshman and is an intriguing prospect to keep your eye on for when Gattis is looking for a little more speed and catching ability. Freshman Donovan Edwards enters the fold as one of the highest-rated running back recruits Harbaugh has brought into Michigan, and Tavierre Dunlap appears to be making a name for himself after an impressive spring game as well. There is no shortage of competition in this room.
The fear is the Wolverines never commit to any of these guys, like the beginning of last season. No Michigan running back had more than 10 carries in an individual game through the first four weeks of last season. Now, a large part of that was because of the Wolverines unsuccessful attempt at running the ball with Joe Milton at quarterback, but he too only surpassed 10 carries in a single game one time.
With plenty of mouths to feed in 2021, the Wolverines could fall into the same trap of spreading too much love among their talented runners. The simple solution would be to trust one or two guys to take the brunt of the carries and have everyone else fill in behind that. But you don’t keep back-to-back top 150 overall running backs (Corum and Edwards) without guaranteeing a certain amount of touches, even subliminally. With a lot still to sort out, Haskins will hope to be the leader on and off the field when the time comes this fall.