The Michigan Wolverines dominated the trenches against the Washington Huskies prevailing 31-10 in a game where they were favored by less than a touchdown. Despite the dominance, the discourse surrounding the play-calling has been deafening.
“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
This is not a Fielding Yost Michigan football offense, but this current iteration has more similarities to those teams than an air raid attack.
Over the first two weeks, Michigan has run 131 offensive plays and only 32 have been pass attempts. On Saturday specifically, Michigan ran 71 offensive plays and only 15 pass attempts. It’s not what they wanted to do, but it was what they needed to do.
Washington likes to play with deep safeties, aggressive corners, and rely on their physicality and size in the box.
However, this scheme leaves them vulnerable to downhill running attacks and by halftime, Jim Harbaugh and company had figured out the winning recipe in four words: run the damn ball.
If the Huskies are going to consistently allow a schematic advantage, it would be irresponsible not to exploit it for the sake of diversity. Not to mention, the offensive line was playing with a fire that was verbally sparked a few days prior.
Washington linebacker Jackson Sirmon proclaimed: “We’re going to stop the run. They want to run the ball, and we’re going to stop the run. We’re excited to do that. They have some talented guys running the ball. It’s one of those things that one guy, one guy is going to get on the tackle and everyone is going to flock to them. We need to limit yards after contact.”
While it will not be reflected in the box score, the offensive line scored four touchdowns last Saturday night against Washington; Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins just carried the ball.
It was put the best on The Michigan Insider on Monday morning: “How many yards did Brian Griese throw for against Ohio State in 1995? Nobody cares because Tim Biakabutuka ran for 313.”
Much like The Game in 1995, Michigan knew they were going to run the ball, the opponent knew they were going to run the ball, and there was nothing they could do about it.
Washington had the answers to the test and still failed.
Of course Michigan will need to incorporate more balance offensively as the season progresses, but I would much rather have a physically dominant team in search of finesse than a finesse team in search of physicality.
Not for nothing, the team that has won the rushing battle has won every game in college football’s biggest rivalry since 2000.
Jim Harbaugh coached teams are always at their best when working from the inside out and there is something to be said about a team who knows who they are and what they must improve upon by the second week of September.
Now, we will see if this can translate deep into the rest of the season.
The Wolverines have found their identity serendipitously in the nasty, phone booth fighting style of Michigan teams past.
That which we are, we are.