ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When it comes to running backs, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is of the belief that you can never have just one.
Or even just two.
Entering Saturday’s game against Illinois, the No. 3 Wolverines (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) have four backs with at least 250 yards, and could add a fifth back to the fold if Drake Johnson returns from an injury this weekend.
Michigan hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011, but Harbaugh says he isn’t high on the idea of having a primary running back with gaudy statistics.
“I”ve never been a fan of just one running back in college football taking 700 or 800 snaps their entire college career,” Harbaugh said Thursday on WXYT-FM in Detroit. “It takes a lot of football life out of a running back when they’re in college. It takes some tread off the tire. You don’t want to do that to college backs.”
However, in three of Harbaugh’s four seasons at Stanford, he had 1,000-yard rushers in Toby Gerhart (210 carries for 1,136 yards in 2008 and 343-for-1,871 in 2009) and Stepfan Taylor (223-for-1,137).
Michigan’s top four backs are Chris Evans (48 carries for 400 yards, 3 touchdowns), De’Veon Smith (61-for-336, 2 TDs), Ty Isaac (53-for-297, 4 TDs) and Karan Higdon (35-for-253, 5 TDs). Of those four backs, Smith has the most carries and yards in his career, with 375 carries for 1,725 yards in four seasons.
“Our running backs have really thrived in this system and I think it’s good for the team and it’s good for the individual’s career not to have 600, 700 or 800 carries throughout their college career.
“I think if you did a study on that, I don’t have a study in front of me but I have the feeling, I have the experience that it wouldn’t be best for their entire pro career.”