Fifth-year senior Ty Isaac has taken over as Michigan football’s starting running back.
He wasn’t the starter a week ago, prior to the season opener — that job belonged to sophomore Chris Evans — but Friday night at the team hotel, running backs coach Jay Harbaugh told him that he would get the start against Cincinnati.
Isaac made the most of it, rushing for a career-high 133 yards on 20 attempts against the Bearcats. On the first four plays of the game, the Wolverines (2-0) handed the ball off to Isaac, and he gained positive yards on all of them — including two first downs.
After every practice, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh invites a player to speak “Wise Words” to the team, and Isaac has been called up twice recently. His message to the team has varied, but it usually covers what has been on his mind that day, or what he saw in practice.
“For the most part, the message is just that we need to trust our work, trust in what we’re doing and stay the path,” Isaac said. “Don’t let a game take you off course and let you lose your focus.”
As a fifth-year, Isaac’s experience is evident. Redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight described him as “extremely mature,” after watching as Isaac has made strides, both in his game performance and his leadership abilities, since transferring from Southern California in 2014.
Speight also noted that Isaac established himself as one of the leaders in the running back competition in fall camp. Since coming to Ann Arbor, he has competed well with the top tailbacks on the team in practice. This year, though, he has been showing it in games.
Isaac ran for his second consecutive 100-yard game in the 36-14 win against the Bearcats after rushing for 114 yards last week versus Florida.
“I thought Ty Isaac had a heck of a game,” Harbaugh said. “Career high for him. He keeps ascending.”
Isaac has hit the century mark only once prior to this season, a 115-yard outing against UNLV in 2015. He came very close last year against Rutgers with 99 yards, but consistency has been an issue for him in the past.
In 2017, he has hit 100 yards twice in two games. It seems that Isaac has it all figured out now.
“He’s been working his ass off,” said sophomore wide receiver Kekoa Crawford.
It showed on Saturday, as the Wolverines trusted Isaac with the ball whenever the offense needed a boost. Early in the fourth quarter, Michigan started a drive at its own 13-yard line, and Speight took the snap and then tossed it to Isaac, who broke loose for a 53-yard gain.
“That particular play had been working all day, and we called it again,” Isaac said. “The guys up front blocked it really well, and (I was) just able to get down field and rip off a big play.”
Isaac is helping the Wolverines’ offense escape tough situations, and as the competition gets even tougher, Michigan may need to call on him even more.
But if he continues posting 100-yard games, the running game should be just fine.