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Posted on Sat, Sep 17, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

Michigan junior Vincent Smith enters lead running back debate

By Nick Baumgardner


Michigan junior running back Vincent Smith picks up 38 yards on a run late in the second quarter against Eastern Michigan.

Melanie Maxwell |

A hot topic surrounding the Michigan football team this season has been the debate over who gets the distinction as the team’s featured running back.

A popular question for many, but one that junior Vincent Smith could seemingly care less about.

“It’s all about the team,” Smith said Saturday following a 31-3 victory against Eastern Michigan. “It’s all about the team right now. … Somebody had to step up and get the job done.”

Smith might not care too much about the individual battle at running back, but he loudly entered that conversation Saturday.

His nine-carry, 118-yard performance marked the first time that a Wolverine running back rushed for 100 yards since Michael Shaw ran for 126 against Massachusetts in the third game of the 2010 season.

Smith didn’t lead the team in carries (starter Fitzgerald Toussaint had 11 rushes for 46 yards) and didn’t score a touchdown, but he was the one player not named Denard Robinson to have a consistent impact in Michigan’s third win of the season.

In 2010, Smith was, statistically, Michigan’s best running back. He ran for 601 yards and five touchdowns alongside Robinson in former coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread-option attack.

But entering this year (with the Wolverines attempting to transition into more of a pro-style attack), the running back debate seemed to center around Toussaint and Shaw — who had one carry for 3 yards against Eastern — with Smith labeled as a third-down back.

Every other back in the conversation has a much more prototypical body-type to run in a pro-style offense. Toussaint is 5-10, 195 pounds. Shaw is even larger at 6-1, 195 pounds — and sophomore Stephen Hopkins (who didn't touch the ball Saturday) has them all beat at 6-0, 228.

Smith is just 5-6 and only 172 pounds. But on Saturday, none of that seemed to matter. He didn't touch the ball until late in the second quarter when he raced 38 yards to set up Michigan's second touchdown. After returning the second-half kickoff 17 yards, he had runs of 27 and 5 yards in a 13-play, 83-yard drive that allowed Michigan to take a 21-3 lead.

“Today, he just came out and was making the right reads and getting down field,” Michigan senior tight end Kevin Koger said. “He was finding those creases and had himself a successful day.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been complimentary of Smith throughout the early portion of the season, giving him kudos for his toughness and willingness to take on contact.

He’s clearly lacking size, but Smith certainly isn’t lacking respect from inside the Michigan locker room.

“On behalf of the offensive line, Vince is one of those guys who you see every day that’s not scared to put his face on (senior defensive tackle) Mike Martin coming up the middle,” said junior guard Patrick Omameh. “He’s just a real gritty guy that loves to do the dirty work, and you don’t always see that in every dude that’s normally in a touchdown scoring position.

“It’s nice to see him get those stats.”

Hoke was mum on the possibility of Smith overtaking both Shaw and Toussaint on the depth chart moving forward, saying that he won’t make any type of decision on that until he analyzes the film.

None of that seems to be of concern for Smith, though. Michigan is 3-0. And that’s the only topic he sees fit for discussion.

“Whatever the team needs, I’m there,” he said. “However many carries I need for my team to win, that’s how many carries (I can handle).”

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.



Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 10:53 p.m.

Vincent Smith did assert himself and he looked real good. The only concern I have is that our running backs have looked good against the two MAC teams we have faced thus far. I do have a feeling that Vincent Smith can emerge as the lead running back followed by Fitz Toussaint. Another concern is that Smith was not very productive until Denard busted a few a runs go get the offense rolling. I am taking a Coach Hoke approach; we have more work to do.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 2:47 a.m.

Denard ran more than a dozen read-option plays, and early on the defense was loading up on the hand-off. They started to ease up on that when Denard started to kill them. That's what all offenses do: they establish one facet of their offense until that opens something else up, then they switch things up. For us it just happens to be feeding Denard to open up the rest of the offense. I really don't see a problem with that.


Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

vincent (the blocker) smith-------there was a point in the first half when smith stepped up and took on a much larger emu lineman and allowed denard to run for a huge early gain-------if that wasn't enough smith trailed the play to recover denard's fumble. that was one, sweet football play.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:07 p.m.

Agreed I wasn't the only one that noticed Vince blocking,and then followed up the play,and make a fumble recovery,for a 1st down.


Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

Who is the leading rusher in Michigan history? Wasn't it a guy who stood about 5'7? Vincent isn't as big at Mike Hart, but just as shifty and quick, and a lot faster. The kid is tough and has proven to be the best back we have. Quit trying to look for the prototypical big power back to fit the pro style offense, and give the ball to your best players. Denard running 25 times game isn't going to work. Why is he still carrying the ball at all, risking injury, when we are up four touchdowns against Eastern? If RR was the coach and this happened people would be raising hell. This offense has taken a step back. I'm confident they will eventually get it together, but in the mean time they need to use the pieces they already have to make it work.


Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 7:09 a.m.

Vince Smith also had a crucial touchdown in the ND game where the RB's had a hard time running. This guy with his performance in the ND game and in the game should given more carries in the future. This guy has proven he could play.


Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 3:37 a.m.

Smith looked great today--- He's got the moves.


Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 2:44 a.m.

Someone ... anyone ... please separate yourself from the pack and assert yourself. Please? Please?


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

For what it's worth, LaMichael James can't move a pile, either.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 2:42 a.m.

Vincent had 9 carries for 118 yards. By all accounts he's the best blocker and pass-receiver of the running backs (and has been for 2 years now). But he can't move a pile so nobody likes him. Kinda sad if you ask me. That being how so many of you have such a narrow-minded view of what a lead back should be.


Sat, Sep 17, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

Good to see. We need to find someone other than Denard that can carry the load on the ground.