The Wolverine

November 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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on 5.6 yards per carry, last year) an early NFL entry candidate with an- other big season, and he himself set the bar at 1,600 yards, insistent he was set to become one of the nation's best tailbacks in 2012. F itzgerald Toussaint was primed and ready to take the next step. Some con- sidered the redshirt junior (who posted 1,041 yards, BY CHRIS BALAS 170-yard game against the Boiler- makers a year ago. Still, Toussaint had notched more than 3.4 yards per rush in a game only once in his last four contests heading into a Nov. 3 game at Minnesota, raising concern that if it hadn't been fixed two-thirds of the way into the season, it might not be this year. Eight weeks into the season, he's still waiting. Some would say a per- fect storm of circumstance has pre- vented him from reaching his po- tential — a revamped offense line, added attention by defenses and quarterback Denard Robinson's in- creased production, to name a few. No matter what the reason, though, his production has taken a pro- nounced dip. Week after week, head coach Brady Hoke has supported Toussaint, even after a 17-carry, 19-yard game in a 44- 13 win at Purdue. While there have been times he's danced too much be- fore hitting the hole, he simply hasn't had enough room to run. "I don't think it has anything to do with his style of running," running backs coach Fred Jackson said before Michigan beat Michigan State, 12-10, a game in which Toussaint managed 52 yards on 10 carries, with 38 com- ing on one run. "We're just putting everything together, the whole of- fense. He's trying to do what he did last year, hopefully not pressing to get yards. "Sometimes that hurts you a little because you press when you expect to see a little more room. I think he's going to settle in during the second half of the season." Toussaint missed the opener versus Alabama due to disciplinary reasons, but averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 50 yards per game through the first four contests. He stood at 96 carries for 321 yards through eight games, averaging 3.3 yards per pop, down from 82 carries, 503 yards and 6.1 per carry a year ago. The running game as a whole was down from 245.9 yards per game to 206.6, though Robinson's output rose from 103.1 to 118.2, and 6.1 yards per carry to 7.2. When Purdue played to take Tous- saint out of the game, Hoke noted, it paved the way for Robinson's 235- yard game, a residual of Toussaint's 32 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2012 Toussaint, though, refused to ac- cept that possible fate heading into a 23-9 loss at Nebraska Oct. 27. A season that started with turmoil due to an offseason suspension, ending in a plea deal for a driving under the influence charge, is still unfolding, he said, with plenty of opportunities to come. STAYING THE COURSE per rush as a result, but his success against the Illini could just as easily have been Toussaint's, Jackson said. "Fitz has just got to have some- where to run," he said. "When Thomas comes in, sometimes Fitz has been in two or three quarters and taken the brunt of the defense's power. You wear them down and then put another guy in like Rawls, that's going to happen. I'd like to start mixing them more, not to take Fitz's carries away but to get Rawls more involved." The offensive linemen generally RUNNING ON FUMES The Running Back Production It Expected This Season Michigan Isn't Getting "I feel like I'm running pretty good, getting better week by week," he said. "The offensive line is getting better week by week, and that's the key. just doing what I have to do, just playing my role. I'm a hard worker. I'm going to continue to work hard, and things will open up." Toussaint saved his best for last a year ago, rushing for 678 yards in his final five games. This year, though, there's no Rimington Award winner (David Molk) at center. Fifth-year se- nior Elliott Mealer has done a solid job in replacing him, but teams are consistently stacking the box to stop the run. "I'm just improving every week, Some, though, have noted Thomas Rawls' emergence, saying that the sophomore might deserve more car- ries, especially after he broke off a 63- yard touchdown run in mop-up time in a win over Illinois. The sophomore has amassed 175 yards and 7.1 yards several questioned what was wrong with U-M's feature back following the Purdue win. "Fitz is Fitz — he's an unbelievable athlete," Lewan said. "I'm not an of- fensive coordinator, but I think he has the ability to run the ball. With Fitz, Vince [Smith], Thomas Rawls, all those guys, they're very capable of doing what Denard does also, without throwing the ball. Purdue gave us Denard, but a lot of those plays, if Denard would have handed the ball off, I think Fitz would have had the same success." Toussaint's confidence, meanwhile, hasn't waned. "It's always hard to find a rhythm," he said. "But you'll get it eventually." Redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint was U-M's second-leading rusher through eight games this season, behind senior quarter- back Denard Robinson, with 96 carries for 321 yards (3.3-yard average) and four touch- downs. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL aren't concerned with who they're blocking for as long as their back is effective. Redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan, though, was quick to come to Toussaint's defense after

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