Despite standing at just 5-foot-6, Vincent Smith isn’t looking up to others anymore.

After the junior rushed for 118 yards on just nine carries in the Michigan football team’s win over Eastern Michigan, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced him as the new feature back on Monday.

“I think Vince right now has earned that right, his performance and his production,” Hoke said. “He played good with his vision on where to go and listening to (running backs coach) Fred (Jackson) as we go through the game about pressing the ball more on the line of scrimmage and then reacting off the center’s tail end.”

But Smith is looking sideways. In the running back battle during fall camp, he was beat out by both senior Michael Shaw and redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint. While Smith won the third-down running back spot, which Hoke said Monday kept him “in the picture,” he had just three total carries in the first two games.

Despite Hoke saying Smith was the lead back, both Shaw and Toussaint remained ahead of Smith on the 22nd-ranked Wolverines’ depth chart. After Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges both insisted they wanted to find a lead running back to take about 20 carries per game, it appears Michigan is headed for a running back-by-committee system.

“We don’t want it that way, but I think we’re there at this point in time,” Hoke said.

Whether it’s alone or not, Smith is leading the charge, at least for next Saturday’s game against San Diego State. His first two carries against the Eagles went for 38 and 27 yards, respectively. He had three more rushes for more than 10 yards throughout the game.

Meanwhile, Toussaint is coming off a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the Notre Dame game, and Shaw’s workload has declined each game. Freshman running back Thomas Rawls had one more carry than Shaw last Saturday. Toussaint came back for 11 carries and 46 yards against Eastern Michigan.

And no matter how many carries he gets as the lead back against San Diego State, Smith’s third-down duties — and obviously his height — won’t change. The two are more related than it initially appears.

Smith won the position mainly because of his superb blocking abilities. Counterintuitively, his stature gives him a bonus in that area.

“You can’t see him,” fifth-year senior center David Molk said. “No one can see him.”

But his blocking relies on more than a sneak attack. On a team that finds a way to slip “toughness” into nearly every press conference, it’s fitting that Hoke’s shortest non-placekicker on the team is one of the leaders in the category.

“He likes to hit, that’s the weird thing about him,” Molk said. “As a little guy, you’d think he’d shy away from it or cut-block some guys to get away from heavy contact. But he will seek out and go find the biggest guy on the defense and just nail him. I love that about him.”

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