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Michigan has speed in space

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Josh Gattis’ vision is coming into focus.

Northern Illinois v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s year three of Josh Gattis as Michigan’s offensive coordinator, and it feels like the offense is finding their groove, their identity.

Smash-mouth physicality from their offensive line, one of the best running back rooms in college football, competent quarterback play, and a whole lot of speed.

Speed in space.

When Gattis was hired back in 2019 he spoke of speed in space, and excitement followed. However, philosophical shifts in the way a program operates at a recruiting level and from a schematic standpoint — those things take time. Gattis now has the personnel to match his vision. He recruited speedsters who can make people miss in the open field, players like Blake Corum, A.J. Henning, Roman Wilson, Donovan Edwards. Those up and comers are now coming into their own — gaining confidence and skill alike.

“We got some serious playmakers on this team — whether it’s A.J., whether it’s Roman, whether it’s a lot of guys in that room that are able to make those kind of plays,” Cade McNamara said after Michigan’s 63-10 win over Northern Illinois on Saturday.

Gattis promised to find creative ways to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing in 2021.

Bubble screens, jet sweeps, reverses, option runs — Gattis knows he has the personnel that can make people miss and take it to the house. One wrong move and Michigan has a handful of players who will take that one mistake and turn it into a huge gain.

“When we talk about speed in space, that’s not only about skill guys or getting our athletes out in space. That’s also getting our running backs out. Trying to create open holes and putting conflicts on defense from a run/pass conflict standpoint, being able to have the pin last,” Gattis said in 2019. “One of the things we talk about on offense is having to dictate the aggressiveness of the defense. We feel like, if we can stay aggressive on offense, we can limit how aggressive the defense is gonna be.”

Players like Blake Corum keep Michigan in a constantly attacking stream of consciousness.

“Blake Corum, special player. The way he trains in the offseason, let me just describe that to you for a bit. It’s all out, all the time. His endurance, his strength. He’s like a stalker of finding the ways to get into the weight room,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said on Saturday. Corum has rushed for 407 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns (1 receiving) through three games.

A.J. Henning made his first start of the season as a punt returner and his speed in space was clear. Henning returned 5 punts for 75 yards, rushed once for 26 yards, and took a shovel pass for 24 yards. Henning was finding space and continued to rack up chunk plays.

“He’s very dynamic with the ball in his hand. You can see when it comes to speed and elusiveness, he’s one of the best on the team. Right along with Roman Wilson. If you could race them, race those two guys, it would be pretty tight,” Harbaugh said. They’re both those types of athletes. A.J. has become very confident in catching the punts. I thought he did a tremendous job today. He could be really good at this. He could be really good at the punt return. He’s very good at it and he’s very good at the reverses, the fly sweeps, the bubble passes. He’s got a lot more to his game, too.”

Michigan’s in a position where if McNamara continues to play adequately or better, the offense could be hard to stop. The Wolverines have a lot of players a defense has to be concerned with at all times, and Gattis’ goal is to leave opposing teams guessing what their approach is going to be week to week.

Michigan’s offense is in a good place right now, a foundation has been set, and we’ll see what is built from here. Michigan appears to have their best running back of the Harbaugh era, potentially the most physical offensive line of the Harbaugh era, and the most speed in space in the Harbaugh era. Things are trending in the right direction heading into conference play against Rutgers next week.