Wolverines Issue of the Week: Will Fitz Toussaint get on track, or should Michigan mix in Thomas Rawls?
ANN ARBOR -- It's been a rough season so far for Michigan junior running back Fitz Toussaint.
After returning from a team-enforced suspension during the opening week of the season, Toussaint has struggled to look anything like the back that rumbled for more than 1,000 yards in 2011.
He couldn't get anything started against Air Force, wasn't exactly dominant against UMass, waited until halftime to show some burst against Notre Dame and was stuck in the mud all day at Purdue.
For the season, Toussaint has just 169 yards on 53 carries -- an average of 3.2 yards per tote.
At first, Michigan coach Brady Hoke believed the running back struggles fell on the shoulders of his offensive line. Since then, he's changed his tune a bit to explain how Toussaint needs to show an ability to get more vertical in the hole. Last week, he blamed Purdue -- saying the Boilermakers did everything they could to take Toussaint away, allowing quarterback Denard Robinson to rush for 235 yards.
But who gets the blame at this point doesn't really matter. Toussaint's struggling to find yards. Hoke says he doesn't care, he's backing the junior as his starter and isn't interested in tinkering with a combination of running backs moving forward.
Should Michigan let Toussaint fight through his slump, or should it take a look at backup Thomas Rawls this week against Illinois?
Hoke and players say Purdue was keying on Toussaint against Purdue, which led to his 17-carry, 19-yard performance. Maybe that's the case.
But whatever is ailing Toussaint isn't confined to that game.
He has yet to surpass 85 yards in any game this year, after averaging 118.0 per game as Michigan's featured back last year. He averages only 3.2 yards per carry.
Toussaint just hasn't looked the same this year, as he misses holes, or lacks burst when he does hit them. It seems as though he spends more time running laterally than he did last year.
I wrote that Michigan should explore its tailback options against Illinois, and I'm standing behind that. Michigan State is on tap in two weeks, and has successfully shut down Denard Robinson the past two years. The Wolverines need another option, and Toussaint hasn't been the answer all year.
Michigan has some latitude to work in players against Illinois, which has been dreadful this season, and it should seize that opportunity. Let's see what Thomas Rawls can do.
Even if he's not the answer, it would give Toussaint time to slow down and maybe figure some things out. And who knows -- maybe Rawls is the answer.
We don't know, because we haven't seen him get much early action. But it's time he does.
Let's start this out by saying one thing: If Purdue just "gave" Michigan Denard Robinson on Saturday, and chose to focus all of its energy on bottling up Toussaint -- then the Purdue coaching staff needs to re-evaluate just about everything with regard to how it coaches defense.
Teams just don't concede yards to Robinson, that's absurd. Now, were the Boilermakers keying on Toussaint heavily, a player who rushed for 170 yards against them last season? Absolutely. But let's not act like Purdue sent all 11 bodies at him on every snap.
Toussaint is struggling. He's not hitting holes with the same explosion as the player who was nearly impossible to tackle during the final five regular-season games of 2011. He has, at times, seemed hesitant in the hole, and has had issues with turning upfield to make something out of nothing.
Should he be outright replaced? No. He's still the same back who started relatively slow last season before picking up steam in the second half. His pass blocking has improved, and he's had a pretty proven history of hanging onto the football.
He should start Saturday against Illinois, and get every opportunity to get his engine revving again. He's the starter, he's earned the job and deserves that much. However, if halftime rolls around and he has 10 to 15 yards on a handful of carries again, then Michigan needs to see what Thomas Rawls can do.
It doesn't matter who starts back there, to be honest. The only thing that does matter is that Robinson has to have an effective back behind him to succeed against the likes of Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State.
Whether it's Toussaint, or someone else, the production has to pick up.
Your thoughts? Should Michigan roll with Toussaint and let him run his way out of this slump, or is it time for a change? Should Thomas Rawls get more carries? Share your thoughts in the comments below.