Michigan’s plan to ‘run it back’: Blake Corum, a new O-line and a fresh start

On Jan. 8, about a week after Michigan stumbled into the College Football Playoff for the second straight season, an Ann Arbor-based sports marketing agency with ties to the university made a financial appeal to Wolverines fans.

“Let’s take it back!” wrote the Valiant Management Group on his Twitter account. “Join us to help get Michigan’s key football players back for the 2023 season with the One More Year Fund. 100% of the fund’s proceeds will go to the players in their pursuit of the 2023 National Championship. # OneMoreYear #GoBlue.”

A graphic attached to the fundraising campaign included images of running back Blake Corum, wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, right tackle Zak Zinter and left tackle Trevor Keegan, a quartet of players weighing their NFL futures, but the possible whose returns would bolster what should be another loaded roster. next season All four players were starters or key contributors the past two seasons as Michigan claimed back-to-back Big Ten titles for the first time since 2003-04 and back-to-back championships for the first time since 1991-92. Along the way, head coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad became just the second Big Ten program to make multiple CFP appearances alongside Ohio State.

The player fans were most eager to make an impact was Corum, a consensus All-American who rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns despite missing the final three games with a torn meniscus against Illinois. Had Corum stayed healthy, there’s a good chance he would have been invited to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, if not the eventual winner. When Corum announced his intention to return to Michigan during several media appearances earlier this week, the Wolverines were ranked in the top three of nearly every article predicting 2023 polls.

“He made it to the College Football Playoff, he finally beat Ohio State, he won the Big Ten, he couldn’t finish,” Corum said in an interview for the athletic department’s podcast. “This past year we did the same thing, you know? So we know what it takes, right? I’m a Michigan man through and through. I love Michigan. I love being here. So, you know, it was a tough decision. but I’ll be back for my senior year and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win it all.”

With Corum in tow, the spotlight has shifted to an offensive line that will face legitimate scrutiny as Michigan tries to reach the CFP for the third straight season. The Wolverines received the Joe Moore Award recognizing the top offensive line in college football the past two years as co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who continues to oversee that position group, saw his coaching stock begin to soar . Not only is Michigan the only program to receive this honor in back-to-back seasons, but Moore’s unit is also the only multiple-time winner since the award’s inception in 2015.

But postseason thrashings against the Georgia and Texas Christian defenses on the sport’s biggest stage have cast doubt on the veracity of Michigan’s perch atop the offensive community. When Moore’s group was ravaged by the Bulldogs for 30 quarterback pressures, four sacks and seven tackles for loss in the Orange Bowl, the poor performance was largely excused because of the incredible talent of a defense of Georgia which produced five first round picks. When Moore’s unit was gashed for 20 quarterback pressures, four sacks and 13 tackles for loss by a Horned Frogs group that finished 95 in total defense, the trophies’ legitimacy was rightly checked.

“We talked all week leading up to the game how important it was to play physical,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes said after his team’s 51-45 win over Michigan, a team that spoke openly about his ability to dominate any opponent at the line of scrimmage. “And I thought we were definitely the most physical team on the field tonight.”

Moore’s challenge by next winter is to diagnose why his offensive line failed against Power 5 opponents from beyond the Big Ten and craft a solution to avoid a third straight semifinal implosion if the Wolverines return to this stage in 2023. It will have to. do so without the team’s top two linemen from last year in center Olu Oluwatimi, who won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center and the Outland Trophy as top interior lineman, and left tackle Ryan Hayes, two-time All-Big Ten. selection The additional losses of tight ends Luke Schoonmaker (NFL), Erick All (transferred to Iowa) and Joel Honigford (eligibility exhausted), all excellent blockers, should not be overlooked in an offense that imposes a heavy responsibility to your position.

The unit received a significant boost Thursday evening when Keegan, another two-time All-Big Ten selection, announced he would return for a fifth season. Zinter, who was once described by former offensive coordinator Josh Gattis as the team’s best offensive player regardless of position, had not yet revealed his plans as of Friday afternoon. The “One More Year Fund” designed to incentivize players like Zinter to return has raised nearly $90,000 from more than 900 donors.

“I talked to them a lot,” Corum said when asked if he had conversations with his offensive linemen. “And I’m like, ‘Listen, it’s just another year. We’re going to finish what we started. Stick together because this team is something special.’ And I talked to them and they had the same thoughts that I had. They could wake up one day and the NFL might be the best decision. Wake up another day, you know, and (think) ‘I’ve got to come. I’m coming back to Michigan. I’ve got more to prove.’

“So it’s up to them. I’m not sure what they’re going to do. But you better believe, you know, hopefully once they hear this (about my decision to come back) and we can find a way to give them some too, they’re going to come back and be ready to lead the way and keep this thing pushing, man.”

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Regardless of what Zinter decides to do, Moore has secured a trio of signings through the transfer window after hitting a home run with Oluwatimi in 2022:

– Center Drake Nugent, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound Stanford graduate: The former three-star prospect allowed four sacks and 10 quarterback pressures in 12 games last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He was a better run blocker (84.1 PFF grade) than pass blocker (77.2) for the Cardinal and was penalized five times.

– Offensive tackle Myles Hinton, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound senior from Stanford: The former No. 74 overall prospect appeared in just seven games last season with seven starts at right tackle. He was charged with two sacks and five quarterback pressures. He graded out as a better pass blocker (63.1) than run blocker (42.7) and was not penalized.

— Guard LaDarius Henderson, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound freshman from Arizona State: The former three-star prospect started six games at right guard before suffering an injury in 2022. He allowed one sack and three quarterback pressures without being called. for a penalty His pass blocking grade (77.1) was significantly higher than his run blocking grade (62).

The influx of transfers proved necessary, in part, due to Moore’s lack of recruiting in the current cycle. Moore, who earned a promotion to co-offensive coordinator after Gattis left for Miami, made changes to some of the top-rated tackles in the country given Michigan’s remarkable success on the field in 2021. He chased down six of the top 14 tackles offensive linemen in the 247Sports Composite, all of whom were ranked among the top 175 prospects, and he was unable to close the deal with each of them.

Kadyn Proctor, the No. 12 overall prospect, is expected to be a Day 1 starter at Alabama after switching his commitment from Iowa. Samson Okunlola, the No. 20 overall prospect, signed with Miami. Charles Jagusah, the No. 49 overall prospect, signed with Notre Dame. Cayden Green, the No. 80 overall prospect, signed with Oklahoma. Spencer Fano (No. 149) and Caleb Lomu (No. 172) signed with Utah.

The top-ranked tackle in Michigan’s class is four-star prospect Evan Link, the No. 269 player overall and the No. 24 offensive tackle in the country.

Still, there’s plenty of time between now and the start of the season for five first-string players to emerge, a prospect that would be greatly accelerated if Zinter remains in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines kept their bell cow when Corum made the surprising decision to return, and now it’s up to Moore to find – and fine-tune – the right mix of blockers for another Heisman Trophy-caliber campaign.

“I didn’t like the feeling of getting injured in the Big House and leaving like that,” Corum said. “I want to finish my legacy, finish what I started. So after the game, I thought about it, I thought about it, I prayed about it and I think this is the best decision. So I hope everyone is ready. We” I’m coming back stronger than ever and it’s going to be a fun ride.”

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

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