Five weeks after a crowded running backs competition began, De’Veon Smith is the last man standing. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, given how hard it is to bring the junior down.
Smith broke numerous tackles Saturday afternoon, bulldozing the Michigan football team to victory. The back ended up with 150 total yards of offense, and became the first Wolverine with three rushing touchdowns since Fitzgerald Toussaint in a 63-47 shootout with Indiana on Oct. 19, 2013.
“As a defense, you never want to get run over,” said senior linebacker Joe Bolden. “When you’ve got your running back running guys over, toting the ball, knowing every play he’s going to get four yards, it’s a great feeling.
“You want to dominate opponents, and the most dominating thing you can do is run the football directly at them … you’re eating up the clock, making their defense tired, it ties other teams down to what they can do.”
The domination came after a week clouded with disappointment and missed opportunities for Smith. After grading himself a ‘C’ for his 17-carry, 47-yard output against Utah, the back had three clear goals: be more physical, catch the ball and stop missing opportunities.
“One of those plays (against Utah), I missed a hole that a bus could drive through,” Smith said Tuesday. “The vision that I watched on film, that wasn’t really how I play from the point of seeing stuff. That’s something I’m trying to improve on this week.”
He got the bus-sized holes again, but against Oregon State, he didn’t miss.
Whether it was breaking tackles, keeping pass-rushers in check in the backfield or breaking free for a 20-yard completion on a crucial 4th-and-5 situation, Smith seized every opportunity he got, showing night and day improvement.
“The offensive line, they commented over on the sideline and (I overheard) them saying ‘Hey, De’Veon’s really running hard. He’s making people miss running through guys,’ ” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “That inspires them. It inspires the other running backs and it inspires the line to sustain and train longer on blocks.”
Smith set career highs in carries, yards and touchdowns, but the production didn’t surprise those that have to go up against him every day in practice.
“When you hit him (in practice), he’ll get up laughing at you like, ‘Hit me hard, it don’t hurt,’ ” said junior safety Delano Hill. “You’ll get mad like, ‘That’s all I got.’ … It makes us want to up our tempo and play harder, seeing him out there.”
Smith proved Saturday that he can do just that in a game. And though refusing to be taken down is tiring work, it’s the only way Smith knows how to play.
“Give me the ball more, I want the ball more,” Smith said. “When you can tell the defense is wearing down, you want the ball more, and I feel like for me personally, my strongest quarter is the fourth quarter.”