Hooting and hollering, the Michigan football team sprinted up the tunnel exiting the Big House. The uphill slope burned, but the players were too excited not to run. Their screams echoed off the walls.

Somewhere in the crowd was redshirt sophomore running back Fitz Toussaint, the running back who may have — at long last — claimed his seat as Michigan’s lead back.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan walked with a slight limp with his arm around Denard Robinson’s shoulder. Lewan tweaked his knee in pregame warmups then badly limped off the field in the third quarter but didn’t miss a snap.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke was picking left guard Ricky Barnum’s brain as they brought up the rear. Barnum re-injured his ankle midway through the game and couldn’t return. At guard, Michael Schofield and Patrick Omameh stepped in, and stepped up.

Lewan, Schofield, Omameh, center Dave Molk and right tackle Mark Huyge paved the way for arguably the best running back performance since 2009, as Toussaint ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

As a team, the Wolverines played “Michigan football” and bullied Purdue, 36-14, similar to how they were bullied two weeks ago against Michigan State.

“I think nationally, people think about Michigan football and playing defense, then running the football,” Hoke said. “Being able to run the football and knock people off the line of scrimmage. And so I think, that’s what, in my mind, Michigan football is.”

Michigan’s defense was considered stout this year — until Northwestern and Michigan State showed the world the Wolverines were weak on the perimeter.

Purdue followed Michigan State’s lead. On the Boilermakers’ first drive, wide receiver Gary Bush took a bubble screen 48 yards for a touchdown — it was the first 40-plus yard play the Michigan defense had allowed all season.

But Michigan’s emphasis on technique paid off, and Purdue punted on five of its next seven possessions. The sixth ended in a Mike Martin safety — which was Michigan’s first safety since 2003. The seventh ended in an interception.

Maybe even more impressive is that this came without redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs, who missed the game due to a knee injury.

“I don’t think that we played near as physical inside with our offensive line,” said Purdue coach Danny Hope, whose words sounded exactly like Hoke’s after his team lost 28-14 against Michigan State.

“Michigan has a very big strong defensive front, and we didn’t manufacture much run game inside, and I thought that slowed us down some.”

Sounds like Michigan football.

What about the offense?

From the first snap of the game — when Toussaint sprinted for 15 yards — it was clear Michigan would be able to run the ball. Meanwhile, Robinson found his groove in the short-to-intermediate passing game, consistently finding open receivers. Borges continued to sprinkle in Devin Gardner at quarterback, but he yielded mediocre results.

Robinson’s lone interception came on the second drive when he didn’t account for Purdue linebacker Joe Holland, who jumped a short pass. On the day, Robinson completed 9-of-14 passes for 170 yards, but was aided by 91 yards via two deep passes in which both wide receivers, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree, made great efforts.

Ultimately, Robinson took a backseat in the offense because the only sure thing was Toussaint and the offensive line.

After Robinson and Gardner ended back-to-back drives with interceptions, and after Martin rejuvenated the defense with his safety, Borges abandoned the tricks. He abandoned Robinson. He abandoned Gardner.

He just fed Toussaint the ball, running the power play down the Boilermakers’ throats.

The oft-injured tailback looked refreshed and rejuvenated. After the game, he said he was able to get off his feet and get treatment to “help heal his body” during the bye.

Toussaint’s 20 carries on the afternoon were the most for a Michigan running back since 2009. His 8.5 yards per carry was Denard Robinson-esque. The offense finally revolved around a power running game, and maybe in particular, a powerful offensive line.

“Sometimes we’re a little — I don’t want to say tentative — but it looked like on film we did not get it done,” Huyge said. “We needed to go out and play as hard as we could.”

Martin pointed to the physical practices the Wolverines had during their bye week as a reason for the offensive line’s improvement. Despite Lewan being hobbled and Barnum’s absence, the line helped fuel 339 rushing yards.

The performance was that much more powerful, considering Hoke publicly challenged the unit after the Michigan State game.

Taking the pressure off Robinson, Toussaint added the exclamation mark on his dominant game midway through the third quarter. Gardner faked a handoff to Robinson and pitched the ball to Toussaint.

Two linemen had already sealed off a few defenders downfield, allowing Toussaint to run free. The shifty back bounced inside and looked for daylight. He sidestepped another defender who over-pursued, then another and finally charged up field, slipping between two defenders. Fifty-nine yards later, Michigan led 29-7.

After the game, Toussaint praised the offensive line and Hoke praised the receivers blocking down field. That was Michigan football.

Together, Martin said, the offense and defense are starting to “complement” one another.

“Offensively, them holding onto the ball, time of possession, putting points of the board,” he said. “And then us, getting the ball back to the offense.”

Leading up to this game, unsolicited, Hoke kept repeating that the Wolverines had to “get back to playing Michigan football.” His words must’ve been echoing between their ears, like their cheers in the tunnel after the game.

The defense was on its way. Finally, the running game looked the part too.

“Gosh I wish — I wish it looked like that every week,” Hoke said.

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