As a true freshman last year, tailback Chris Perry turned quite a few heads.
Backing up Anthony Thomas, who would become Michigan”s all-time rushing leader, Perry played in all but two of the Wolverines” games, carrying the ball 77 times for 417 yards and five touchdowns.
Coming into fall practice, Perry was expected to pick up the torch that Thomas left behind when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears of the NFL. With the numbers to back up his potential, it seemed like a sure thing.
Meanwhile, it looked as though junior B.J. Askew would come into the season at fullback, after picking up 40 yards on 11 carries and catching 18 passes for 257 yards in the 2000 campaign.
So it was a bit of a surprise to some fans when Askew started the Miami game lined up behind quarterback John Navarre in the tailback position, where he played as a freshman in 1999.
It was a bit more of a surprise when Navarre handed off to Askew in each of the first four plays for 12 yards.
By the end of the game, the surprises had landed Askew 94 yards on 20 carries and two catches for 29 yards. He also ran for a touchdown.
“He ran tremendously,” Navarre said. “He has been working hard all through the spring and summer, and had a tremendous training camp. So he ran really hard and that”s what we needed from him. He pounded the ball up the middle and broke some tackles and got the yardage he needed to get.”
Askew was able to pick up the big plays on two other occasions to set up touchdowns, one catch for 30 yards toward the end of the first half to set up the Bennie Joppru”s game-winning touchdown catch from the two-yard line and a run for 30 yards in the fourth that led to Calvin Bell”s 12-yard run on a reverse.
“I love running the football,” Askew said. “Some people have a love for what they do, and that is where my heart is, so I would love to get more carries.”
Left watching was Perry, who could compile only 32 yards on 11 carries.
“B.J. did a great job,” Perry said. “I think I could have run a little bit harder, kept my eyes up and used my vision a little bit better. It will all come.”
Perry got his chances. In the late third quarter to early fourth quarter, Navarre gave him the ball on several occasions as he picked up about 20 yards. But soon after, Askew returned to the game and broke his 30-yard run.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said that Askew”s return to the tailback spot was based on a tremendous fall practice, where he outshone Perry and senior Walter Cross.
“He has really made strides as a pass blocker and seems to be developing into the same mould as Anthony Thomas did,” Carr said. “He can catch, block and run. He just needs to continue to do it over the length of the season. A good running back is a guy that can go every week throughout the season, hang onto the ball while he is tired and play through some pain. It”s not a two-game evaluation.
“B.J. has good balance. He is not an easy guy to knock off his feet. He may not have some of the moves as (former Michigan running back) Tim Biakabutuka, but if he maintains his focus and doesn”t get distracted then he can be a great back for us.”
At this point in the season, it”s obviously premature to assume what will become of Perry”s role.
His talent is as expansive as his potential, and it”s hard to tell whether he”ll have to wait a game, a month, a season or two before he gets the chance that he was expecting this year.
“Hopefully, we can be a one-two punch,” Perry said. “Or even be a combination with Walter and Dave (Underwood). Whatever happens, happens, so we”ll see what happens next week.”