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Notebook: Backs take pressure off Robinson in running game

By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 1, 2011

Last week, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he was a bit resigned to the fact that his team would have a running back by committee.

After nearly everybody on the committee got involved in the 19th-ranked Wolverines’ 58-0 blowout of Minnesota, he might just want to re-sign up for the deal.

Three running backs — redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint, senior Mike Shaw and freshman Thomas Rawls — ran for 60 yards or more. It was the first time since the season opener that junior quarterback Denard Robinson didn’t lead the team in rushing.

The one running back that didn’t have more than 60 — junior Vincent Smith — had a rushing receiving and passing touchdown. He’s the first player in the NCAA to accomplish the feat since Rice’s Chase Clement in 2008.

Toussaint appears to be the head of the committee — he led the way with 108 yards. It was his first career game over the century mark.

“That’s more about the offensive line, how we prepare on Tuesday and throughout the week,” Toussaint said.

But the most impressive back may have been Rawls. With the game in hand by halftime, Hoke began to empty his bench. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Rawls got his opportunity.

In Michigan’s game against Eastern Michigan, Rawls had two carries in the final seconds for four yards. On his first carry Saturday, he had more than six times that. Rawls found a hole up the middle and cut to the sideline, breaking a tackle for a 25-yard gain. He finished the day with 10 carries for 73 yards.

“He’s a freshman that is learning the game at the Division-I level,” Hoke said. “I think he’s got some skill sets that are pretty good. I think you saw some of that today.”

FIELD GOAL FEVER: Hoke always says kicking on Main Street (where Michigan Stadium is) is different from kicking on State Street (where the Wolverines’ practice facility is). He was also adamant that redshirt sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons had been kicking well in practice.

But the results against the Gophers weren't any different from the results in practice, as Gibbons went 3-for-3 in field goals.

“Someone has said that he’s kicked really good during fall camp,” Hoke said. “Someone did. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him and hopefully that interjects even more confidence into him.”

The three field goals were each career longs at the time, starting from 25 yards, to 32 yards and then to 38 yards. In five games this season he’s missed just one field goal — a 40-yard try against San Diego State.

His four field goals this season are quadruple the number he hit a year ago.

THEIR HELMETS HAVE WINGS … AND NUMBERS: The Wolverines unveiled a slightly altered helmet in their Big Ten opener. Every player wore his number emblazoned on both sides of his helmet.

The team will wear the helmets, which originally carried the design for the Notre Dame "Under the Lights" game, for the remainder of the season as a way to “honor those who guys who have worn those numbers before.” While Hoke said it was his decision, it appears he got some input from his seniors.

“I’m pretty sure it was a senior thing,” sophomore quarterback Devin Gardner said. “I’m sure they lobbied to get it done and what the seniors want the seniors will get.”

INJURIES, BUMPS, BOO BOOS AND BANGED UP: He was never on the injury report, but his listing would have read something like this:

Denard Robinson: Boo Boo.

The junior quarterback wore a bandage on his throwing elbow this week.

“I took a shot last week,” Robinson said. “I got a little boo boo.”

Hoke, a week after saying freshmen running back Justice Hayes was out with a bump, repeated Robinson’s assessment. Officially, it was a “boo boo.”

Robinson played, but some of his teammates didn’t. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ricky Barnum had a defensive lineman roll into his leg last week against San Diego State. He didn’t dress this week. Neither did redshirt junior running back Mike Cox or redshirt senior fullback John McColgan. Hoke said McColgan got “banged up” but was also day-to-day.

Sophomore running back Stephen Hopkins and fifth-year senior fullback/tight end Steve Watson filled the void. But there’s no word on whether being banged up is better or worse than having a boo boo or a bump.