Lloyd Carr knows a thing or two about top tailbacks. The likes of Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry and, of course, Mike Hart have graced his backfield over the years.
So when he says he’s impressed by Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney, it’s probably wise to sit up and take notice.
“I think Laurence Maroney is a great back,” Carr said. “He has got great speed. He’s got great toughness. He’s got great vision. He’s got great size. And when he gets free, as we learned a year ago, he can hit the home run.”
That long ball came at the end of the first quarter in last season’s game when Maroney burst through a hole in the middle of the line and ripped off an 80-yard run for a touchdown. He finished with 157 yards on 19 carries in Michigan’s comeback win.
Even though they contained Maroney after he broke that early score, the Wolverines are still quick to acknowledge his talent.
“Being a former running back (myself) – he’s a great back,” senior cornerback Darnell Hood said. “He is one of the best running backs that I have seen since I have been in college. With a guy that is 200-something pounds and very explosive off a cut and able to take pounding and keep on coming – that’s a back you have to worry about.”
That is, unless you’re the Penn State defense. In their 44-14 thrashing of the Golden Gophers last Saturday, the Nittany Lions held Maroney to 16 carries for a season-low 48 yards, including just 14 in the first half.
After the game, Penn State defensive tackle Jay Alford said the Nittany Lions’ defense was motivated to stop Maroney by all the attention Maroney has received this season. Whatever the unit did, it seemed to work.
“I was getting frustrated out there,” Maroney said on Monday.
That’s a rare occurrence for the 5-foot-11 junior, who has recorded 3,215 rushing yards in his career. Through five games this year, Maroney is the Big Ten’s leading rusher with 746 yards on 129 carries. Even more impressive, those totals rank him as the nation’s second-leading rusher behind DeAngelo Williams of Memphis. A candidate for the Doak Walker Award – given annually to the nation’s top running back – Maroney has been included in much of the early-season Heisman hype.
But according to Michigan linebacker Prescott Burgess, the Wolverines are prepared for Maroney and the rest of Minnesota’s rushing attack.
“We practice the type of football that we’re going to see this week every day in practice,” Burgess said. “Hard-nosed football – the way we know how to play.”
Even so, Minnesota boasts perhaps the best rushing offense Michigan will face this season. Heading into last weekend, the Gophers led the nation in rushing. But even after their 113-yard showing against Penn State, they are still ranked second with an average of more than 283 yards per game. Minnesota’s ground attack figures to be a challenge for the Wolverines’ run defense, which is ranked sixth out of 11 Big Ten teams.
And it all starts with Maroney.
“If you are on the ground and he has the ball, then that scoreboard is about to be lit up,” Carr said. “We have got to stay on our feet.”