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Michigan football is in an era of elite running back duos

This could be one of, if not THE best eras of running back play in Michigan football history.



Michigan football, Penn State, Ohio State, NBC analyst
Oct 15, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Donovan Edwards (7) rushes in the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan football just received the news of the offseason as star running back Blake Corum has officially announced his return to the Wolverines in 2023. His return is huge for Michigan as the combination of Corum and Donovan Edwards proved one of the most unstoppable duos in all college football in 2022.

Those two running backs will both be back for the 2023 campaign. Michigan looks to make the College Football Playoff for the third season in a row and win the National Championship.

The combination of Corum and Edwards is just the most recent of a line of elite running back duos that Michigan football has boasted over the years. We can go as far back as when Michigan had a backfield of Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka. During the 1994 season, Wheatley and Biakabutuka combined for 1,927 yards and 21 total touchdowns. Both players are now viewed as two of the greatest running backs in Michigan football history.

In 2022, Corum and Edwards combined for 2,454 yards and 28 total touchdowns. In 2021, Hassan Haskins and Corum combined for 2,279 yards and 32 total touchdowns. Over the last few years, Michigan football fans have been lucky enough to witness some of the best running back duos in Michigan football history, and it doesn’t appear that this trend will go away soon.

2018, Karan Higdon-Chris Evans

As an isolated event, this was a big moment for Michigan fans and the entire Michigan football program. Before the 2018 season, no Michigan player had run for over 1,000 yards in one season since Denard Robinson did back in 2012. That was until Karan Higdon achieved the feat in his senior season.

This was a sign of things to come. Michigan football has always been at its best while having an elite runner on the team, and the Wolverines finally found it once again. In 2018, Higdon ran the ball 224 times for 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Compared to the numbers Michigan backs are putting up in today’s college football, Higdon’s numbers don’t seem like much. In reality, however, 1,000-yard rushers are not easy to come by, and his season would ultimately bring the Wolverines back to an identity they’d created over 100 years of football.

Run. The. Ball.

However, Higdon wasn’t the only running back to find success in the 2018 season. Chris Evans was more than capable of finding success on the ground, running the ball 81 times for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Evans also found plenty of success through the air as a pass catcher, making 18 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown.

While it might be easy to overlook this season and its accomplishments, that year ultimately pushed Michigan back to its roots, helping them to the next level with elite running back duos.

2021, Hassan Haskins-Blake Corum

Thunder and lightning were a combo for the ages.

Hassan Haskins, the thunder of the duo, was the heart and soul of the Michigan offense in 2021. Often viewed as soft-spoken but never afraid to take a hit or jump over one, Haskins was everything for that offense.

He would go on to run the ball 270 times for 1,327 yards and 20 touchdowns. His season was elite and one of Michigan’s best in many years. It was so good that his 20 touchdowns would be a school record in season touchdown runs, led by the five he scored against Michigan’s rival, Ohio State.

Blake Corum, the lightning of the duo, was no slouch himself. Hindered towards the back half of the season by a lower-body injury, Corum easily could have reached 1,000 yards rushing had he stayed healthy. Ultimately, he would finish the year having run the ball 144 times for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Even through injury, Corum found a way to break some long runs throughout the entire season, and it was clear that once Haskins graduated, there would be no drop-off at the running back position. He was too good not to continue to impress.

For many reasons, the 2021 season was exceptional all around. Michigan went on to beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011. They won the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 2004 and made it to the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history.

As if all of that weren’t enough, this would be the start of a long line of running back duos dominating all of college football for years to come.

2022, Blake Corum-Donovan Edwards

The 2022 outing was yet another incredible Michigan football season, even better than the 2021 outing. Michigan went on to win their second Big Ten Championship alongside their second College Football Playoff appearance. As if that weren’t enough, they would even go on to have the program’s first-ever 13-win season.

Unsurprisingly, another running back duo spearheaded the efforts as Blake Corum, and Donovan Edwards hit an absolute home run in 2022. Sure, that may be the wrong sports reference to make in a football article, but let’s go with it.

Following a sophomore season where he nearly broke 1,000 yards, Corum blew his previous career best out of the water by running the ball 247 times for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns. This success was found all while being sidelined for multiple games through the season with another lower-body injury.

Still, if it hadn’t been for this injury, we might not have realized just how good Edwards would also be. Edwards would run the ball 140 times for 991 yards and seven touchdowns, just a step down from Corum’s numbers the year prior.

If Hassan Haskins and Corum were thunder and lightning, then Corum and Edwards were lightning and lightning because they both had blazing speed. While Corum’s longest run of the year was 61 yards, Edwards found a way to run one for 85 yards. Running backs only make explosive plays like that if they have speed along with overall talent.

This was the first time Michigan’s had back-to-back seasons with 1,000-yard rushers since Denard Robinson did it from 2010-2012. While the 2018 season might have been a sign of things to come, this season may have been a sign of things to stay.

Future of Michigan football, CJ Stokes-Cole Cabana

The future for Michigan football running backs is very bright. First, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards will be the stars of the show once again for the 2023 season, so there should be no issues whatsoever. Both are incredible players, and if 2022 were any indication, I would not be surprised if Michigan found itself with two 1,000-yard rushers next year.

Once we get to 2024, that is where speculation starts to come into play. Corum will likely be in the NFL by that point, and Edwards could also choose to make the jump if he’d like. Still, I think Edwards should take his senior year to prove what he can do as the lead back of a team.

We saw what it did for both Hassan Haskins and Corum, so there’s no doubt that Edwards could benefit from it. The questions then move toward who will come up as the second back behind Edwards.

In my mind, there are two main guys who could easily fill the role. Those names are CJ Stokes and Cole Cabana.

Stokes was a part of the class of 2022, so he’s already had one season under his belt with the program, and he’s shown himself to be more than capable as a Big Ten running back. In his freshman season, Stokes ran the ball 55 times for 273 yards and a touchdown, showing plenty of flashes throughout the season. Don’t get me wrong, though; he also made plenty of mistakes. He’ll need to clean up his ball security if he wants to see extended playing time in 2023, and this could do wonders for him in terms of momentum for the 2024 season.

On the other hand, Cabana hasn’t played a single down in college, but this kid could be special. He’s a part of the 2023 class and will be a true freshman with next year’s team.

As a senior at Dexter High School, Cabana ran the ball for 1,518 yards and 27 touchdowns. That’s not even including the additional 916 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns he accumulated in other facets of the game.

Cabana is currently viewed as the No. 9 running back and the No. 2 player out of Michigan in the class of 2023, per 247 sports. Already as a high school senior, he has more than enough talent to show that he could make an immediate impact at the college level.

I do not want to predict that these guys will be as good as Denard Robinson, Hassan Haskins, or Blake Corum. What I am willing to do, however, is say that these players have the potential to be great.

Along with the individual aspect, the future of Michigan running back duos has the potential to be great. It’s all just a matter of continuing to improve. Luckily, if Michigan’s coaching staff has shown anything over the last few years, they are more than capable of developing their ball carriers into stars in college football.

A recent graduate from Kalamazoo College, Tyler has four years experience in sports writing. He currently works as assistant editor for Blue By Ninety and specializes in a variety of sports such as football, swimming and diving, and basketball.