Michigan Football: They Say There Are No Michigan Running Backs


Nov 1, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Drake Johnson (20) duns the ball in for a touchdown Indiana Hoosiers cornerback Michael Hunter (17) attempts to tackle in the third quarter at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

So Harbaugh wants to get back to power football, huh?  Well that’s great!  He just so happens to have a plethora of players at the running back position that can fit that style.  Let’s take a look at the players that Michigan fans have actually had a chance to see.  But Michigan doesn’t have running backs!  I have actually heard some “sports” people tell me that “Michigan doesn’t have running backs.”  Maybe these people are mistaken, don’t know Michigan, or just don’t know football.  Whatever the case may be, this much must be understood.  The Michigan Running Backs are indeed a threat.  Michigan has pulled in top talent from the recruiting end of the past few years.  Development was an issue, as was a suspect O-Line,  so Michigan can definitely prove the doubters wrong.

The double headed dragon of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are two young men that could use the power game to their advantage, and thrive in doing so.  Last year wasn’t overly impressive, but also not a completely down year either.  Both Green and Smith were top 10 running backs in their class.  Let’s talk Derrick Green first, shall we?   In his 2013 season, a freshman campaign, Green didn’t fare too well only getting 270 yards on 83 carries averaging 3.3  yards per carry for 2 TDs in all 13 games.  Green didn’t see a whole lot of snaps as he was backing up former Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.  His sophomore year would be the year of major improvement and significantly more snaps for him.  In 2014, he would post 471 yards on 82 carries for 3 TDs averaging 5.7 yards per carry.  All of that in only 6 games before getting injured half way through the season.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t Heisman numbers, and he was also sharing carries with De’Veon Smith, but that is a great sign for the future.  Speaking of Smith, we are talking about a guy that in his freshman year was low on the roster at the running back position.  His freshman numbers would consist of 117 yards on 26 carries for a 4.5 average, but no TDs.  In his sophomore year he would split carries with Derrick Green – at least until his injury – and Drake Johnson – who would take over more snaps to cover Green’s absence.  In the 2014 season we would watch Smith go to work for 519 yards on 108 carries averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 6 TDs.  This double headed monster of Green and Smith would be backed up with Drake Johnson.  Johnson, a top Back in his class and late bloomer of 2014, would show the depth of this Michigan roster.  He would finish his 2014 sophomore season appearing in 6 games with 361 yards on 60 carries averaging 6.0 yards per carry, and 4 TDs including 2 in his showing against rival Ohio State.

In case you are not the best math student that’s 3 quality backs for the Wolverines.  Let’s say, hypothetically, we had a 4th back.  That would be crazy, right?  Oh wait, we do? End hypothetical, enter Ty Isaac.  In 2013 Isaac was ranked 122nd on ESPN’s Top 300.  Isaac is not a player many have yet to have the privilege of seeing, as he committed to USC with Michigan also in his Top 3.  He transferred after his freshman year, which would feature him very little at USC.  Transfer rules in the NCAA made it so that Isaac would have to sit out in the 2014 season, and that’s what he did.  Under Hoke, Michigan ran a running back by committee type of offense.  That may have been one of the things that attracted Isaac to Michigan – on top of all the other reasons he had liked Michigan to begin with.  Ty Isaac has yet to get a chance to prove himself, with Michigan or otherwise.  This year could be the year Michigan has more running backs than they actually know what to do with.

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So that’s possibly 4 running backs with starting ability. Given – no it’s not quite like having 2 and a half QBs that could start for almost any team in the NCAA – but the numbers could start to become intimidating.  Anyone who beat the 2012 Northwestern football team – which had 2 quality signal callers in Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter – team can vouch to that.  However, it is much harder to game plan multiple backs.  None of these 4 backs have the same running style; all of them can take a hit and brush off the wimpy tackles.  So when asked “how do you figure Michigan has any running backs?”  Now the response could simply be “How don’t you figure?” or “Excuse me, who doesn’t have running backs?”

Stats for any player on Michigan’s roster