For the first time since he arrived in Ann Arbor in January, Michigan coach Brady Hoke has named a definitive starting running back: Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Toussaint, a redshirt sophomore, ran all over Purdue on Saturday, tallying 170 yards and two touchdowns in the No. 13 Michigan football team’s 36-14 victory over the Boilermakers.

Entering the season, Hoke and his staff refused to name a starter, proclaiming it an open competition in the backfield behind junior quarterback Denard Robinson. The pack quickly whittled down to a three-man race between Toussaint, junior Vincent Smith and senior Michael Shaw.

Smith seemed to have the job wrapped up after a 118-yard performance against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 17.

“Vince probably right now has earned that right (to start),” Hoke said two days later.

But the decision was far from final. Hoke admitted the backfield would still be more likely to feature a running back-by-committee look rather than Smith exclusively.

Against San Diego State the following week, Toussaint was in the starting lineup and carried the ball four more times than Smith.

Hoke isn’t flip-flopping anymore. During his weekly Monday press conference at the Junge Family Champions Center, he confirmed that Toussaint had taken over the starting job.

“I think it’s Fitz right now, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Hoke said. “He’s earned that opportunity.”

Toussaint’s 170 rushing yards against Purdue were the most by a Michigan running back in a Big Ten game since Mike Hart’s 195 yards against Minnesota on Oct. 30, 2006.

His 20-carry workload was heavier than that of any Wolverine running back in a single game since Carlos Brown rushed 25 times against Illinois on Oct. 31, 2009.

Toussaint’s breakout performance could also be attributed to the bye week. Against Michigan State two weeks ago, he received just two carries.

“A lot of it was to get off my feet more and get a little bit more treatment on my body for me to be healthy for this game,” Toussaint said on Saturday.

He looked refreshed and ready from the outset against the Boilermakers, matching Robinson’s 170-yard passing performance.

The most impressive touch was Toussaint’s 59-yard touchdown rumble late in the third quarter. He took a pitch to the left, cut inside a pair of blocks, split the safeties and outran everyone to the end zone.

“(On) the 59-yarder, he separates the safeties and has a tremendous burst as he does it,” Hoke said. “And the other credit goes to our wide receivers blocking down field like nobody’s business.”

The burst, which was missing all season, was a welcomed sight.

“He’s made some runs like that … since last spring when we got here,” Hoke said. “But I think he set up blocks well. I think the receivers did a good job. I think he stuck his foot in the ground and really had a great burst out of it.”

With his 503 yards on 82 carries (a 6.1 yards per-carry average), Toussaint is Michigan’s second-leading rusher, behind only Robinson.

After eight games, Hoke has seen enough to name Toussaint the definitive starter, but the others will certainly see the field.

“I don’t know what (Toussaint being the starter) does, besides the continuity of it,” Hoke said. “But I think they’re so interchangable to some degree. Vince (Smith) was a little beat up so he didn’t get as many opportunities. Mike (Shaw) comes in and gives you a different gear to some degree.

“But right now, Fitz definitely will be the guy.”

So, for now, the case is closed.

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