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Michigan Wolverines Football Goes Familiar To Improve Running Game

Michigan’s running game hasn’t exactly been tearing it up in the first half of the season, but the Wolverines took a big step forward at Illinois by rushing for 295 yards.

Just about everyone has put up big yardage on the ground against the Fighting Illini this year, but offensive line coach Ed Warinner was pleased with the play of his group up front in a 42-25 win.

The tight ends and receivers also did their part, he added Wednesday when he met with the media.

“We got the outside game going with the pin and pull, got some linemen on the edge pulling our guards and center out there. We did a nice job with that,” Warinner said. “It was just good to establish a run game.

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Michigan football offensive line coach Ed Warinner (middle) and the staff went back to the past for a hand with the running game against Illinois.
Michigan football offensive line coach Ed Warinner (middle) and the staff went back to the past for a hand with the running game against Illinois. (Per Kjeldsen)

"We talked about being more physical since the Wisconsin game on both sides of the ball, every position, and we’ve emphasized that in practice. It’s starting to come to fruition, being able to control the line of scrimmage, run the football and stop the run on defense.”

The Iowa game, a 10-3 win, was a testament to the toughness of the defense. The offense will still need to be much better on the back half of the schedule to compete for a title, starting Saturday night at Penn State.

If some of the run plays against Illinois looked familiar, they should have. Redshirt freshman running back Hassan Haskins took advantage of a return to the recent past to bounce outside a few times, while true freshman Zach Charbonnet had some holes opened by trapping tight ends.

“That was our top outside zone play last year. That was our top run play,” Warinner confirmed. “Inside zone and pin and pull were our two top runs last year. We hadn’t done as much of that.

“The first couple teams we played had schemed it up to slow that down, so we used a version of outside zone where you block down and zone pull people instead of just straight zone blocking … We hadn’t got that going to that degree. Our tight ends did a nice job setting the edge so we could do that.”

It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better. The Wolverines ran at will in the first half, especially, and were successful again later in the game. Both Haskins and Charbonnet eclipsed the 100-yard mark, and Haskins continues to show signs of being a solid No. 2 to Charbonnet.

Though he still needs to work on his pass blocking, Haskins has looked much more comfortable over the last few weeks. He notched a big run just before halftime against Iowa and had a number of solid gains against the Illini, including his 29-yard touchdown.

“He has a lot of talent,” Warinner said. “Talent is great, but once you gain confidence to go with that talent, then you see ‘wow’ plays. And he’s starting to get his confidence in that, ‘this is what’s happening in front of me’ … understanding blocking schemes, where the cuts are. Then you get into rhythm."

Running the ball as a running back is like a shooter in basketball, where once a player hits two or three triples then they are rolling.

“Hit some runs and you get some confidence, start playing faster, everything starts clicking,” Warinner said. “He’s starting to get in that groove where when you give him the ball, you can feel he knows what he’s doing, knows how he wants to do it and understands what’s happening in front of him.”

It’s all about confidence and experience, something many of the returning starters on offense are regaining after struggling much of the first half of the season.

The coaches are putting them in positions in which they’ve been successful before, Warinner noted, and feel they have a better sense of what will work and what won’t going forward.

“It becomes clearer what you can and can’t do, what you’re good at and what you’re not good at,” he said. “As that picture clears itself up, you stick with that, do it more, build on it. We’re all into doing that.”

More Michigan Football Offensive Line Notes

• Redshirt freshman right tackle Jalen Mayfield is still learning, but he’s come a long way since the beginning of the season, Warinner said.

“He’s grown quite a bit and is starting to play his best football,” the offensive line coach said. “He’s still a work in progress, but from the first couple games to where he is now, he’s continued to improve.

“He works really hard at it. He’s out there 15 minutes before practice, stays after, comes in every day in the morning when he’s free and watches extra film. He’s really committed to it. We see the growth.”

Most first-year players take time to adjust to the speed of the game and get through the nerves. Mayfield’s about there, Warinner added.

“He was focused on how do I do this job … He’s past all that,” he said. “When you’re young and a freshman … it’s not just getting past that first hit. That goes through your mind for weeks and weeks. Now we’re in week seven, eight of the season, now every play he’s thinking about how do I win and what details to win and not, ‘oh man.’”

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