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Posted on Sat, Sep 3, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

Toussaint makes most of opportunity as Michigan's No. 1 running back

By Nick Baumgardner


Michigan sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns in his first start.

Melanie Maxwell |

Fitzgerald Toussaint saw an opportunity and ran with it.

With the Michigan football team taking control of what turned out to be a mutually agreed-upon, weather-shortened 34-10 win over Western Michigan on Saturday, Toussaint -- the newly anointed No. 1 running back in the Wolverines' new pro-style offense -- found a gap that ended any doubt.

"I was just running to daylight," the sophomore back said.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder from Youngstown, Ohio, showed a combination of speed and power on a 43-yard, third-quarter run that seemed to snap Western Michigan's spirit and cement his status as Michigan's feature back.

Even though his primary backup and main competitor in camp, Michael Shaw, followed the run with a 44-yard touchdown scamper of his own, Toussaint's run capped an 11-carry, 80-yard day that featured runs from the spread and power formations.

The 80 yards were seven shy of Toussaint's entire output in 2010, when he missed six total games due to injury.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced that Toussaint would be the team's No. 1 back Friday, just hours before the Wolverines kicked off the season.

After Saturday's performance, Hoke seemed confident in his decision.

"I thought he finished off fall camp real well; I thought he had a nice finish," Hoke said. "I thought Fitz ran the ball up in there pretty hard and took some guys on, which is what you want to see out of your back.

"If you noticed, on the one long run by Fitz, he lowered himself to go through a guy … that was exciting to me, that was good football to me."

Toussaint's solid performance Saturday not only gives Michigan a legit threat in its new pro-style scheme, but perhaps more importantly, it allows the Wolverines to lessen the rushing load taken on by junior quarterback Denard Robinson.

Robinson set an NCAA record in 2010 for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season with 1,702 yards. Entering this season, offensive coordinator Al Borges said he'd like to limit Robinson's carries to 10 to 15 per game.

Robinson finished Saturday's game with 46 yards on eight carries -- and said he was more than happy to defer to his lead back throughout the contest.

"I don't want to juice his head up too much, but Fitz is probably one of the best running backs I've played with," Robinson said. "He runs hard, makes guys miss and he's fast -- he's a good back."

Toussaint made the most of an opportunity in fall camp, made the most of it this Saturday and says that he feels that he's ready to continue that trend for the remainder of the season.

"It was a good experience for me," Toussaint said. "I just want to stay healthy and continue to keep pushing forward with my teammates."


Troy Woolfolk is carted off the field after an injury during the first half on Saturday.

Melanie Maxwell |

Woolfolk goes down with ankle injury

Senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk was set to make a return he waited a year to make Saturday after missing the entire 2010 season with a right ankle dislocation.

And while Woolfolk did start the game, he didn't last long -- going down early in the second quarter with a left ankle injury.

Woolfolk had the ankle taped and was carted off the field before the half. He returned to the sidelines in uniform in the third quarter, but did not play again. Hoke didn't seem to be overly concerned afterward.

"He sprained (his left) ankle, and if we had needed him, he would've gone back in," Hoke said.

Despite missing the majority of the contest due to injury, Hoke said that Woolfolk still managed to make an impact.

"He got banged up there and all that, and he worked himself with the trainers," Hoke said. "You could keep hearing him on the sidelines encouraging both sides."

Hoke says hold outs will be back for Notre Dame

Prior to kickoff, Michigan announced that starters Ricky Barnum (left guard) and Cam Gordon (outside linebacker), as well as reserves Stephen Hopkins (running back) and Marrell Evans (middle linebacker) would not dress against Western Michigan.

Gordon missed the game due to injury. Barnum, Hopkins and Evans were held out due to "team issues."

Following the game, Hoke declined to elaborate much on the situation -- but when asked if the three players that were held out would be back for next week's game against Notre Dame, he replied with an affirmative.

"Yes," Hoke said simply.

Kickoff coverage dubbed "awful"

Hoke said Michigan has several areas that it needs to work on, kickoff coverage being one in particular.

Western Michigan averaged 31.3 yards per return, something Hoke said isn't acceptable.

"Kickoff returns were awful," he said. "On the one, the defense had been on the field for a long drive and (Brandon Herron) gets the pick and runs it back (for a touchdown). And there's a celebration, which you want to see because it's fanaticism for the game -- and a lot of them, no all of them, are on the kickoff team.

"I thought about taking a timeout, but we put some other guys in (instead)."

Big Ten trophy to visit Ann Arbor’s Adam Rittenberg reported earlier this week that the new Stagg-Paterno Big Ten football championship trophy will visit all 12 Big Ten schools this season.   The trophy will be in Ann Arbor on Oct. 1 when Michigan plays host to Minnesota.   Rittenburg wrote that the new trophy stands 30 inches tall, and features a removable silver-plated, hand-polished football with a mirror finish.   Rittenburg also noted that rather than handing out the entire 18-pound trophy to the eventual Big Ten champion following the conference’s first ever title game on Dec. 3 at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, conference commissioner Jim Delaney will instead present the winning team with the removable football.

Odds and ends

Hoke declined to pin all the blame of the team's blocked extra point on sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons. "We got knocked back a little bit," he said. "And we'll correct that. … Michigan forced a total of three turnovers Saturday and committed none. Last season, Michigan finished 109th nationally in turnover margin. … The Wolverines committed only one penalty for 5 yards Saturday. Western Michigan countered with eight penalties for 50 yards.

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



Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

Is it almost like the weather was mother nature's act of "washing away" the stains of the last 3 years? The lightning started almost as soon as our defense started to play like the Michigan defense of old. Coincidence?

Ahmar Iqbal

Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 7 p.m.

What a creative observation you have! I like this comparison.

Ahmar Iqbal

Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

The "ice breaker" is done. The players' energy, coaching adjustments and matter of fact acceptance by Coach Hoke of "awful" aspects is hopeful sign of good things to come back to Michigan football. The whole team knows the expectations of Michigan fans and Coach Hoke has done a marvelous job of constantly reiterating his goal of winning a Big Ten championship this year and beating Ohio. He is not going to offer excuses and that is leadership. Definitely headed in the positive direction. What the heck, the weather added to the first game drama. Can't wait for Notre Dame and another historical opportunity. Go Blue!!!

Blu n Tpa

Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 11:11 a.m.

The biggest improvement wasn't on the field, although as Mick points out there were several things that give rise to being hopeful for this team. No, the biggest step up was in game management. It's also called coaching and many out there may not have recognized it because it's been missing for a while. Coaches have to know what things can be changed within the game and what has to wait until the team's back on the practice field. Coaches trying to do the latter during a game are wasting valuable time doing something that isn't going to impact that game. And sometimes coaches have to see what's not working before they can make adjustments. I call that "proving the negative", finding out who and what isn't going to work so there's no doubt that something has to be done. One example of this was the front 4 during WMU's first two drives. They weren't awful but they weren't effective either. So after seeing that the defensive coaches dial up some blitz packages to take Carder out of his comfort zone and by doing that kept the bads guys out of the end zone. Coaches win games by putting players in positions to make plays. BH, JR, and JK all stepped up to make those plays when the team needed. So gentlemen take a bow because that's how you win football games. TiM Go Blue!


Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 9:59 a.m.

Thank heavens this opener was against a MAC team, and one that was 93rd in offense in 2010 at that. I was sure glad that our opener against a top team like Alabama was still a year away. But, a win is a win. Those first few drives by WMU made our D seem eerily like last year. It didn't appear to me that our DL was getting much of a push all game long. Oh well, Mattison did dial up some blitz packages that finally turned the tide. I hope we don't have to rely on blitzes all the time, however. As our schedule gets tougher, we're going to run into teams that will better pick them up and make us pay the price. Our kick return coverage was atrocious. On the other hand, our offense was able to run the ball fairly well without over-reliance on Denard. Our passing game was only so-so, but adequate. I don't think it's just "coach-speak" when Brady Hoke says a lot of work still needs to be done. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments are made during the year on both sides of the ball. GO BLUE!


Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 3:44 a.m.

I feel such a sense of satisfaction for the effort and improvement UM made during the game. -Make big impact plays on Defense, check -Win turnover battle, check -Offense, moved the ball on the ground w/out Denard having to, check -Offense made no turnovers, check -Team only had 1 penalty for five yards, check -Denard being under center and doing play action here and there, check -Offense using over 8 minutes to answer WMU's opening drive and general ball control when needed, check -Hoke being calm and cool and tutoring on the sidelines and not screaming at his players all the time, check I could go on and on. There are some things we need to work on for sure. But can you imagine how well theses guys are gonna play when Hoke and staff really get it going. We have the chance to have a special season, I love it so far. And, if you liked the improvement during the game, you're gonna love the improvement this team makes during the season.