Michigan football coach Brady Hoke says Fitz Toussaint is his lead tailback
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
The Michigan football coaches have dangled the lead tailback position over the running backs all year, yet none of them have been good enough or consistent enough to seize the role.
Coach Brady Hoke said Monday during his weekly news conference that sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint has won the lead tailback derby for No. 13 Michigan (7-1, 3-1), which visits Iowa at noon Saturday on ESPN.
"I don’t think there’s any doubt," Hoke said. "I think he’s earned that opportunity."
Toussaint had 20 carries for 170 yards in a 36-14 win against Purdue on Saturday, both career highs. He scored two touchdowns — including a 59-yarder on which he split the defense — to match a career best he set in the opener against Western Michigan.
"I think he played tremendously," Hoke said. "I think he had a great vision, balance and the most exciting thing was his burst out of holes.
"The 59-yarder, he separates the safeties? I mean, that’s a tremendous burst."
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound sophomore from Youngstown, Ohio, now has 82 carries for 523 yards and six touchdowns, easily leading the Michigan tailbacks in each of those categories. He's also started each game for which he's been healthy except against Minnesota.
So, in a lot of ways, Toussaint's always been the leader to claim the lead back role since being named the starter for the opener. Yet, he's had trouble pulling away from Vincent Smith, and, in fact, had just two carries in a 28-14 loss to Michigan State three weekends ago.
Hoke said Toussaint's diminished role against the Spartans was due to the "situations of the game," perhaps a reference to the Wolverines trailing for most of that matchup and the Spartans' dominance up front.
Michigan passed more in that game, and Smith is a better blocker right now.
Hoke said Smith and senior Michael Shaw will continue to factor into the offense, despite Toussaint's claim on the position.
"I think they’re so interchangeable to some degree," Hoke said. "Vince was a little beat up, so he didn’t get as many opportunities. Mike comes in and gives you a different gear, to some degree.
"But again, right now, Fitz definitely will be the guy."
Hoke opened the tailback competition when he first accepted the Michigan job in January, and said he'd use multiple backs only if he was forced to do so. He was, for eight games.
But Toussaint has ended that rotation, surely in part due to his burgeoning health, which allows him to take the 20 to 25 carries per game desired by Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Toussaint played in only five games last year due to knee and shoulder injuries, and has dealt with an array of health issues in his career. He also missed the Notre Dame this year with a shoulder injury.
Now, though, it appears Toussaint is healthy, and he's starting to show in games what his teammates have seen in practices: Good bursts and great vision.
"He's just healthy," senior tight end Kevin Koger said. "He'd been getting banged up the last few years, and it's finally good to see him healthy and running the ball hard and staying healthy."