ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When Josh Gattis took over as Michigan’s offensive coordinator, he was expected to create an explosive offense based on the skills of highly touted players such as Shea Patterson, Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Zach Charbonnet.
But the offense got off to an extremely slow start, and it wasn’t until an under-the-radar former three-star recruit who recently switched from defense to offense took the Big Ten by storm.
It’s not People-Jones, Collins or even Patterson carrying the Michigan offense. It’s Hassan Haskins.
Where did this guy come from?
Haskins committed to Michigan on Oct. 29, 2017 -- two years ago Tuesday. His commitment flew under the radar because he was the 17th-ranked recruit out of 20 players in the class.
The Eureka, Missouri, product was the No. 49 running back in the nation and the No. 975 overall player in the class, according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings. Haskins was a three-star prospect and the No. 11 player in Missouri.
Other than Michigan, Haskins had scholarship offers from Purdue, Memphis, Eastern Michigan, Ohio and Western Kentucky.
It’s not an overly impressive offer list or recruiting profile, but Haskins is proof that high school rankings don’t always predict college success.
Jim Harbaugh is known for moving players to new positions if he thinks it will benefit their football careers -- such as four-star quarterback Zach Gentry, who was switched to tight end and landed in the NFL.
Haskins was thrown a major curveball as a true freshman. Harbaugh didn’t just ask him to try a new position, he moved him to the other side of the ball.
Haskins appeared in three games on special teams but wasn’t a contributor on offense or defense. While that’s not necessarily a surprise for a first-year player -- especially as a position change guy -- Haskins appeared to be far away from actually contributing in games.
Harbaugh moved Haskins back to his familiar spot in the offensive backfield this season, which could have been a major setback for the development of some players. Moving back and forth from offense to defense can stunt the growth of a young player if he doesn’t spend enough time mastering a specific position.
But Haskins picked up right where he left off.
Charbonnet, Christian Turner and Tru Wilson buried Haskins at No. 4 on the running back depth chart early in the season. He got just three carries for minus 3 yards combined the first three games.
But since Michigan’s blowout loss to Wisconsin, Haskins has been much more prominent in the offense. He earned a then-career-high nine carries the following week against Rutgers, gaining 45 yards.
In the last three games -- against Illinois, Penn State and Notre Dame -- Haskins has gained 302 yards on 45 carries.
The Illinois game was when Haskins officially burst onto the scene. He carried the ball 12 times for 125 yards, including an impressive 29-yard touchdown on his first carry. Haskins got the ball on third down and 1, found a crease, spun out of a tackle and beat four Illini defenders to the end zone.
He didn’t score against Notre Dame, but he led the team in yards from scrimmage, gaining 149 yards on 20 carries.
Haskins’ best run of the game included this devastating stiff arm that sent linebacker Khalid Kareem sprawling to the turf. He also carried safety Alohi Gilman to extend the run another 10 yards.
Haskins is suddenly the team’s No. 2 running back. He’s a great compliment to Charbonnet and ranks second on the team with 59 carries and 366 rushing yards.
While Charbonnet has scored nine touchdowns already this season, Haskins has proven to be a solid all-around option for the Wolverines to avoid overworking the true freshman. Charbonnet wasn’t the same for a few weeks after getting 33 carries against Army, and Haskins has been able to lighten that load without a dropoff in production.
Haskins runs like a former linebacker -- breaking tackles, stiff arming defenders and falling forward to finish plays. He doesn’t have elite breakaway speed or quickness, but he’s turned into a secret weapon for Gattis’ improving offense.
Michigan has started to turn a corner the last three weeks, and it’s no coincidence that it comes as the rushing attack finds its rhythm. It might have been unexpected for someone who began the season No. 4 on the depth chart, but Haskins is a major reason for that success.