ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan rushed for 287 total yards during its last two games combined. On Saturday, the Wolverines rushed for 326 yards against Penn State and averaged nearly seven yards a carry.
Michigan running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley said last week that his group had become “like Vegas” during practice. A group that had five different running backs – including the fullback – scored on Saturday, proving that you never know who is going to get the ball next.
De’Veon Smith, a senior, is the unquestioned leader of the group. For three seasons, he has been the feature back in Ann Arbor. On Saturday, he eclipsed 100 yards for the first time since Michigan’s Citrus Bowl victory over Florida on New Year’s Day. The Warren, Ohio native tallied 107 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown. After a 37-yard performance against UCF, he compiled 87 yards on Colorado the following week, and it appears he will continue to improve.
It wasn’t just Smith who shined. Three other Michigan running backs had more than 50 yards. If you include fullback Khalid Hill, five scored a touchdown. Karan Higdon burst for a late touchdown in the fourth quarter after having a career-high nine carries for 81 yards.
“I had a heck of a week of preparation, like I do every week,” Higdon said. “I consider today a productive day. I need to be more crisp. There was a run where I tripped over a lineman, and, if we clean that up, then that could be another touchdown.”
Higdon saw some time as a true freshman last season, but never had that big play, or a game like true freshman Chris Evans had against Hawaii. Nonetheless, Higdon found his way to a No. 2 in yards gained in the crazy running back core that is Michigan’s Vegas.
Senior Ty Isaac also had an impressive day, rushing for a score and 74 yards on 11 carries, averaging just under seven yards per carry. Evans had another successful performance by gaining 56 yards on eight carries for a 7.0 average.
Michigan’s rushing attack wasn’t non-existent before Saturday, but it surely wasn’t something teams feared. Now, soon-to-be top 10 Wisconsin must take into consideration that Michigan has a good passing game, an elite receiving corps, and, now – a powerful rushing attack.
As far as what will happen in “Vegas” this week, Higdon thinks it will be just another week for a group that seems to produce a new star each week.
“You see one guy make a heck of a play in practice, then you turn around and make a heck of a play. It’s like, whoa, you’re always excited to watch those guys make a play, as well as yourself. That’s what Vegas is like,” Higdon said. “I think it’s an awesome advantage for us. We have one guy go down, we have the next guy up that is able to do just as well – if not better. I think as we continue to make each other better, and continue to compete – we’ll have an unstoppable backfield, in my personal opinion.”
The Penn State rush defense is ranked No. 94 in the country, so it’s probably safe to say that Michigan won’t compile the gaudy numbers they did Saturday. The Badgers have the No. 19 rush defense. Michigan State’s LJ Scott was only able to gain 61 yards, while the team had just 75 total rushing yards.
The Wolverines face a traditional, smash-mouth Big Ten defense in Wisconsin., a defense Michigan might have to get creative with by maybe adding some (Jabrill) Peppers into the rushing recipe.
The No. 4 Wolverines play the No. 11 Badgers in Ann Arbor at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. We’ll know a lot more about what really happens in Vegas then.