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Jim Harbaugh explains rushing emphasis, what held up the pass game on Saturday

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Michigan dared Washington to stop the run. They didn’t. It’s as simple as that for the Wolverines.

Washington v Michigan Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines were dominant throughout the night in the 31-10 win over the Washington Huskies in Week 2. They were able to get whatever they want on the ground to the tune of 343 rushing yards as a team, led by standout performances from running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins.

Michigan said all summer that it wants to be able to run the football and play physical up front. So far, it looks like that identity is taking shape.

“Maybe a little too early to say what our identity is,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “We’ll see what that looks like every single week. I thought it was strong, as I said before. There are some things that we can improve, which makes you feel good in an early-season game where you get the win and there are things to improve on, too. Things to go back to work on Monday and get better at. Things we have to get better at because you can. It’s a good feeling right now.”

Michigan was far from balanced as an offense on Saturday, rushing 56 times compared to 15 pass attempts. The simple answer from Harbaugh and Michigan on why that was the case was that the run game kept working.

“They were having a hard time tackling those running backs. Hassan and Blake, they’re tough to tackle,” Harbaugh said. “You want to just keep going back to the well if that’s the case. You’ve got to make your opponent stop what you’re doing. Thought (offensive coordinator Josh Gattis) did a good job of staying with that and even then, attacking the C-gap. Really became ‘go at the C-gap.’ There were adjustments made. Wasn’t just re-running the same play. As they adjusted, we adjusted. We were right there with them. Offensive line did a great job of blocking the movement, blocking the adjustments. Thought Josh and (offensive line coach and co-coordinator Sherrone Moore) were both really on it from a standpoint of hit them, hit them over there and come back and make them stop what you’re doing good. Fastball, curve within the running game. It was very good, very productive. Again, no turnovers, great stuff.”

Coming into the game, one of Michigan’s biggest questions was how it would replace senior captain and wide receiver Ronnie Bell. That remains in question and is an incomplete with so little to speak of from a passing standpoint.

“We didn’t target them too much,” Harbaugh said. “(We) all kind of realized that they have a tough time stopping this run, we’re going to keep doing it until we stop it. They didn’t, so we kept feeding the run game.”

The wide receivers are still clearly figuring it out, and quarterback Cade McNamara played what looked like the shakiest performance of his college career to this point. With all of that being said, Michigan never planned to feed something that wasn’t there anyways and credited Washington’s cornerbacks for the lack of pass production and emphasis.

“Going into the game, we’re not going to win by throwing the ball outside the numbers,” Harbaugh said. “Those corners are really good. We were going fare a lot better running the ball 52 times than we would’ve thrown it 52 times. Our guys are good, they came up with plays when they had to. They didn’t stop the running game. We knew they had a good defense, we watched the Montana game, the defense played extremely well. Told you we were going to lean on Hassan and Blake, they’re that good, too. We’ve got good players in the passing game, we know our guys can catch the ball, run routes, we can throw it. It was just so good, the running game, it felt good to not take it away.”

The offensive balance will be needed eventually, but it was not on Saturday night. The Wolverines found a way to get to 2-0 and dominated a Pac-12 team at home in Week 2. That’s the result they were most concerned about at the end of the day.

The Wolverines are back in action next week with a game against Northern Illinois at Michigan Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.