Next man up.
No three words have been echoed by more members of the Michigan Wolverines’ football program...except maybe, “Where’s the hold?” give or take an expletive.
Against Indiana last week, several players exited early due to injury (receivers Andrel Anthony and AJ Henning, cornerback Gemon Green, running back Blake Corum) and some did not play at all due to prior injuries (tight end Erick All, running back Donovan Edwards).
When asked how the preparation process changes due to these injuries, head coach Jim Harbaugh answered: “It doesn’t change. It doesn’t change. It’s more of a next man up mindset than changing a game plan.”
Heading into the Penn State game, a few of the next men up are familiar faces, while others are less proven commodities. While it is highly unlikely all of the aforementioned players will miss the game in Happy Valley, these players could have their number called on Saturday.
Running Backs: Tavierre Dunlap and Leon Franklin
Firstly, senior Hassan Haskins will be responsible for 90 percent, if not more, of the snaps at the running back position in this game. From his rushing abilities to pass-blocking prowess, Haskins is a tough guy to take off the field.
However, Haskins is a human that requires oxygen and the occasional play off. Without his counterpart Blake Corum and highly touted true freshman reserve Donovan Edwards, the Wolverines must look deeper on the depth chart.
Freshman Tavierre Dunlap and junior Leon Franklin have both seen their first career action this season. Dunlap has appeared in two games and carried the ball seven times, while Franklin has appeared in three and carried the ball five times.
While only a freshman, Dunlap already possesses the desired college size, listed at 6-foot, 222 pounds. Franklin is built similar to Corum at 5-foot-8, 206 pounds and has deceptive breakaway speed.
Neither is expected to exceed 10 offensive snaps against Penn State, but these are two players with varying skill sets who can be trusted in limited roles until Corum or Edwards are back in the rotation.
Tight End: Joel Honigford, Carter Seltzer, Trente Jones
Luke Schoonmaker confirmed his position as the No. 1 tight end option without Erick All, but in an offense that utilizes multiple tight end formations, who else is going to rise to the task?
Former offensive tackle Joel Honigford and Carter Seltzer are the two obvious choices, albeit for completely different reasons. Given Honigford’s background, he is predominantly used as a blocker and given Seltzer’s size (6-foot-8), he is a Zach Gentry-esque receiving target.
Despite appearing in several games, the two upperclassmen have only one career catch between them, so don’t expect the second coming of Jake Butt against Penn State. Recently, both players saw over 20 snaps in the Indiana game and Seltzer was fingertips away from his first career catch.
Honigford and Seltzer are both fifth-year players and three-year lettermen who rarely miss an assignment. Sheer reliability is the floor with these two rotational pieces on the field.
Trente Jones is only listed here as a dark horse because of his jersey number change against Indiana from No. 53 to No. 80. This change makes him an eligible pass catcher per NCAA rules and is someone to watch down the home stretch of the season.
Punt Returner: DJ Turner
Henning has been the primary punt returner since Ronnie Bell was lost for the season against Western Michigan. There was a brief transitional period where reserve defensive back Caden Kolesar fielded a few, but that quickly proved unsustainable.
Without Henning, breakout cornerback DJ Turner appears to be the one tasked with returning punts against Penn State. Turner returned one punt against Indiana for an impressive 25 yards.
Against Penn State, the Wolverines cannot afford any mistakes on special teams that could swing momentum in favor of the Nittany Lions on the road.
Turner has been one of the best stories on the team this year and his career is just getting started in Ann Arbor.
Despite turning 21 years old yesterday (happy belated), Turner has three more years of eligibility after preserving his redshirt in 2019 and being exempt from eligibility due to COVID-19 in 2020.
Cornerbacks: Rod Moore and Ja’Den McBurrows
Without third corner Gemon Green, the Wolverines will look to freshman safety Rod Moore and freshman corner Ja’Den McBurrows to help fill a void in the rotation.
Starting corners Turner and Vincent Gray will carry the vast majority of coverage assignments and the trio of safeties (Brad Hawkins, Dax Hill, RJ Moten) will be utilized in versatile roles to help in coverage.
However, depending on the scheme or look provided by Penn State, Moore or McBurrows could be called upon in rotational duty. Of all the replacements listed, this is the one role that is the most concerning due to the combination of youth and inexperience.
Moore has seen more game action than McBurrows and notched 19 snaps on defense against Indiana last week. Expect defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to do what he can to ease the burden on these players and only insert them when absolutely necessary.