Carlos Brown finished his interview session, but he wasn’t finished soaking in the moment. Instead, he sat in the back of a small side room and listened to teammate Jamar Adams at the podium.
Even with his breakout performance, Brown receded into the background of the room just like he took a back seat to quarterback Chad Henne.
Brown, who finished with 113 rushing yards on 25 carries, recorded his first career 100-yard rushing game and was the first running back to gain more than 100 yards this season against a stingy Illinois defense. Not to mention he had to fill the Heisman-sized hole in the Michigan offense with senior captain Mike Hart pacing the sidelines in street clothes.
But Brown would only play the foil to Henne’s mid-game injury and late-game heroics.
Brown didn’t do anything flashy. He waited patiently waited for the Wolverine offensive line to open holes in their zone-blocking scheme. Still, while he moved Michigan down the field three yards at a time, Henne captured the big moments.
Does that overshadowing take away from Brown’s performance?
With the up-and-down season Brown’s had up to this point, he’s just happy to contribute.
“I just want to play,” Brown said. “I want to be anywhere I can, any position I can be to get on the field and play.”
Last week against Purdue, Brown was an afterthought in the blowout win. He scored two touchdowns in mop-up duty in the second half, but the focus was on the two backs ahead of him on the depth chart. Hart was listed as day-to-day after an ankle injury, and second-stringer Brandon Minor left the field sitting on the back of a cart.
Brown said he didn’t know he would start Sunday but prepared in practice like he would. And when Hart appeared on the sidelines in street clothes, Brown had to step up.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord wasn’t sure what to expect from the Michigan ground attack minus Hart, but after Brown’s explosiveness in the second half of the Purdue game, DeBord hoped the sophomore could play a bigger role.
“We didn’t know what we were going to be able to do, if we were going to be able to run the ball effectively or not,” DeBord said. “We really decided to go at it and kind of go through the course of the game and see what we could do. Then we were going to adjust from there.”
And Brown started out slowly. He had just 36 yards at halftime, but by the end of the game, he showed the flashes everyone expected when he arrived on campus.
He didn’t reach the end zone, but on consecutive plays late in the third quarter, Brown broke 12- and 30-yard rushes and almost broke the latter for a touchdown.
“He stayed with his reads,” running backs coach Fred Jackson said. “He talked about them after each series. He talked about what’s happening to him. And I thought that’s what made him better today.”
Considering how Brown started the season, DeBord said he was glad to see him bounce back from an early-season wrist injury and fumbling problems and become the assertive back who found the seams in the Wolverine zone-blocking scheme.
“You got to give Carlos a lot of credit, because a lot of people were down on him a little bit when he fumbled the ball early in the season,” DeBord said. “He just stayed the course, kept working and now he’s getting his carries.”
With the issues Brown has had during his time at Michigan, relaxing in the back of a press conference might be enough of a reward for the emerging running back.