Michigan lost its all-time leading rusher in Mike Hart. And his two most-experienced replacements, juniors Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor, have been hampered by injuries.
With so much uncertainty at quarterback and on the offensive line, the Wolverines can’t afford to see another position group struggle.
Luckily for Michigan, it has what running backs coach Fred Jackson calls the best two running backs in the same class in his 17 years with the Wolverines — freshmen Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie.
Shaw and McGuffie have had more reps in practice than Minor and Brown, and the coaches seems comfortable with the freshmen getting a bulk of the carries.
“It’s really exciting,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “When recruiting them, you can tell they’re athletic guys that can run and can make people miss. … But they’re tough guys, as well. I mean they’re not afraid to stick it up in there, and they showed some physicalness in practice that you don’t normally see a lot of times out of a true freshman right out of the gate.”
Both will likely play in the slot, too. But Shaw, who’s listed on the official roster as a wide receiver, will probably see more time there.
Jackson said Shaw was better conditioned than McGuffie right now because McGuffie is just beginning to near full health after coming to fall camp with a hamstring injury.
Jackson liked Shaw a lot all along, but he recognized McGuffie had more hype because of a YouTube video showing him jumping over a defender. But it’s the difference in running style, not preseason hype, that really has Jackson confident the duo can complement each other.
Jackson said Shaw is a slasher, and McGuffie is a jump-cutter, which allows him to run between the tackles well. Their speed, though, is one common trait Jackson is drooling over.
“It’s a hell of a deal to have two guys like that because, to me, if you miss them at the line of scrimmage, 90 yards later, you’ll find the results,” Jackson said.
Beside the big play, it’s a finer technique Jackson is focusing in on with the freshmen backs, one Hart excelled at — not fumbling.
If McGuffie or Shaw doesn’t carry the ball properly, regardless of whether they fumble, Jackson makes them run gassers after practice.
Despite having the most reps of all the running backs, Jackson said neither has come close to putting the ball on the ground.