The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 36 of 91

M By Chris Balas ichigan���s running back situation has been a puzzle through four games, and in more ways than one. Position coach Fred Jackson has spent the non-conference portion of the schedule sifting through pieces, and while all are important, he hasn���t been able to find the one he���s really looking for. That said, he���s not displeased. Several in U-M���s stable of backs have shown flashes in the early going, starting with redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint���s 80-yard game Neck and Neck Running Back Competition Continues Into Big Ten Play in the opener with Western Michigan and continuing with junior Vincent Smith���s 118-yard, 13.1-yard per carry outing against Eastern Michigan. Toussaint missed the Notre Dame game ��� one in which Michigan���s backs managed only 10 yards, a 50-plus-year low ��� with an injury, however, revisiting questions as to whether or not he���s durable enough for the Big Ten, while Smith remains too valuable in his third-down role to run 20 times a game. That leaves Jackson plenty of work to do heading into the Big Ten schedule. ���Really, we haven���t had much of a chance to see them all,��� Jackson said Junior running back Vincent Smith rushed 21 times for 179 yards (8.5 per carry) and one touchdown in U-M's 4-0 start to the 2011 season. photo by Lon horwedeL prior to Michigan���s Sept. 24 game with San Diego State. ���You had a shortened game, a game you got behind in and then we tried to move some guys in and out against Eastern Michigan. ���By the time we come out of the Minnesota game, I think we���ll be pretty much into what we are feeling because a couple of my guys have been banged up. [Freshman Thomas] Rawls has been banged up, Fitz has been banged up, [sophomore] Stephen [Hopkins] has been banged up, and that���s why I couldn���t play him sometimes. Sept. 22, Jackson insisted. While Robinson is the heavy favorite to lead the team in carries and yardage for the second consecutive year ��� his 26 carries against EMU were telling, and about 10 more than where the coaches would have liked it ��� Jackson predicted good things from his group. ���We haven���t done a lot yet, but with the opportunities we���ve had we���ve done okay,��� he said. ���We���ve got a lot of room to improve yet, but I���ll tell you what; I think they���re going to be good. I think I���ve got guys here that, like I said in camp, are go- Sophomore Stephen Hopkins (left) and senior Michael Shaw (right) saw limited action in Michigan's first four games, but they still may factor in the offensive attack in 2011. Hopkins photo by Lon Horwedel; Shaw photo by per kjeldsen ���When we get them all healthy, we���ll see what happens.��� Amassing yardage on the ground hadn���t been a problem through four games, but junior quarterback Denard Robinson had the most to do with that. The Wolverines were averaging 6.8 yards per carry, led by Robinson���s 138.0 yards per game and 7.8 yards per rush. Smith and Toussaint had also emerged despite limited opportunities. Smith was averaging 8.5 yards per carry, picking up 179 yards on 21 runs, while Toussaint was at 35 carries for 199 yards (5.5-yard average) with three touchdowns. Even senior Michael Shaw was averaging 7.7 yards per carry, thanks in part to a 44-yard touchdown run in the opener that accounted for most of his 54 yards. All were still auditioning as of ing to be very good. It���s just a matter of putting them in positions where they can have a little success. ���Fitz and Vince have played well and the most so far, so there���s truth to what you���ve seen so far, but I still think you haven���t had the opportunity to see everything yet because of the injury bug and the shortened games, those kinds of things. After the Minnesota game ��� if they can stay healthy ��� is when you���ll have a lot better picture.��� Hopkins, who emerged as the front-runner after spring ball, was battling a sub flexor injury that limited him against Eastern Michigan. He missed the opener due to a team issue and notched only six carries for 18 yards through four games, but Jackson wouldn���t write Hopkins off despite two fumbles. He lost the ball on his only carry against San Diego October 2011��� ������ the wolverine��� 37

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