In 2004, the Michigan football team faced the tough task of replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Chris Perry, who is now the starting running back for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Then-senior David Underwood entered the season as the Wolverines’ leading returning rusher and started the opener against Miami (Ohio). But after looking tentative in that game, he carried the ball just seven times the rest of the season as then-freshman Mike Hart grabbed hold of the running back job.
Four years later, Michigan is trying to replace Hart, who went on to become the Wolverines’ all-time leading rusher.
With 623 career yards entering the season, junior running back Brandon Minor was Michigan’s top returning rusher. But like in 2004, a freshman, Sam McGuffie, has earned the most carries.
Many expected Minor or fellow junior Carlos Brown to emerge as the Wolverines’ feature back this year. Various injuries have slowed both, but Minor has the better chance to avoid Underwood’s fate as Brown is out at least this week with a sprained ankle.
Minor has had just 10 carries this year, but his role could increase this week when Michigan hosts Illinois at 3:30 on Saturday.
“I always had a place on this team,” Minor said after the Wolverines’ comeback win over Wisconsin.
Minor has run with reckless abandon that screams to Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez for more carries. His 7.2 yards per carry are best on the team (minimum 10 attempts). Minor’s two touchdowns tie McGuffie for the team lead, but he has needed fewer than a sixth of the carries to get them.
On his lone carry against Miami, Minor plowed 15-yards down the left sideline, slipping by a RedHawk tackler and diving three yards over a couple players and into the endzone.
His second touchdown came on his second of two runs against Wisconsin. He raced 34 yards past a blitzing Badger defense to bring Michigan within five points early in the fourth quarter.
Don’t think Minor can’t handle a heavier load, though. His touchdown came on the 10th straight play for which he was on the field, and the fifth was a deep fly route.
“The linebacker that was chasing me (on the fly route), he was out of breath after that,” Minor said. “I came back, ran a couple more plays, went and scored. I still wasn’t tired until teammates beat me up on the sideline.”
After the game, Minor credited director of strength and conditioning Mike Barwis with helping the team stay confident.
“We didn’t give up,” Minor said. “Most people expect us to give up. Mike Barwis, he preaches to us. All the coaches preach to us not to give up. So, that’s what we did. We started believing in ourselves. We had faith.”
If his play follows that attitude, he could get more chances this season to show what he can do.