Michigan Wolverines brings running game back to the forefront
By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR — Jim Harbaugh seems to have his best running game in seven seasons at Michigan, rotating two speedy and powerful backs behind an offensive line that has been opening huge holes.
The Wolverines were so effective at moving the ball on the ground in a 31-10 win over Washington that they had 56 rushing carries for 343 yards and chose to throw just 15 times for 44 yards.
Harbaugh said he heard “a little bit of noise,” about it with fans clamoring for the team to throw more and run less.
“There’s a lot of ways to travel,” he said Monday. “Some people choose to travel on the ground, some people by air. George Patton was able to get his job done on the ground. Neil Armstrong through the air. Last Saturday night, we chose to grind it out on the ground and were also able to get our mission accomplished.”
No. 25 Michigan (2-0) will likely lean on its ground attack at home again against Northern Illinois (1-1) on Saturday.
Even though the Wolverines are off to a strong start and may not be underdogs until they play Oct. 2 at No. 18 Wisconsin, they will be measured by how they fare against No. 9 Ohio State at the end of the regular season.
No one knows that more than Harbaugh, who is winless as a coach against the rival Buckeyes. Reflecting the importance of The Game, he changed the name of the team’s running drill that stacks seven defenders in a small space against an offense without wide receivers.
“Years prior, we’d call it a 9-on-7, which is what the drill is,” offensive guard Trevor Keegan said. “But this year, we changed it to the ‘Beat Ohio’ drill.’ Now we’re blasting music, smelling salts, everything. It’s a pretty physical period. We love it.”
Ohio State has won a school-record eight straight against Michigan, including a 56-27 rout two years ago in the last matchup, and 15 of the last 16 meetings.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has a “Team Up North Drill,” and now the Harbaugh has been inspired to dub a part of practice that shows how much that game means to him.
“It kind of came along with the whole tradition of, ‘What are you doing to beat Ohio State every day?'” center Andrew Stueber said. “Kind of taking that rivalry into focus every day.”