Sometimes, for a player to get back into rhythm, he just has to loosen up.
Redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint strolled into the museum area of Schembechler Hall on Tuesday dressed in a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon T-shirt. He pulled on a Michigan polo shirt before addressing the media, but his smile and style were telling.
He’s starting to feel like himself again. And he’s starting to run like it, too.
“I felt like I ran good,” Toussaint said regarding his performance in Michigan’s 13-6 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. “Just getting back into rhythm feels good. The offensive line definitely did better, and that was a good thing, and that’s an overall thing.”
Toussaint has yet to run for 100 yards in a game this season, but he has shown progression since he returned from suspension at the beginning of the season. Against the Fighting Irish, Toussaint rushed for 58 yards on just 13 carries for a solid 4.5 yards per carry.
Against Massachusetts the week before, Toussaint averaged 5.7 yards per carry, though his statistics from that game hold less weight due to the low quality of competition.
In order to see a 100-yard rushing game from Toussaint, he may just need to touch the ball more.
“Personally, I would like 20 carries a game.” Toussaint said. “But whatever I can get, I can make the most out of them. I know that’s what I’m best at.”
Toussaint has yet to take 20 handoffs in a game this season. He carried the ball 15 times against Massachusetts, 13 times against Notre Dame and just eight times against Air Force, when he picked up an abysmal seven yards throughout the contest. Over his 10 starts last season, Toussaint averaged 17.4 carries per game.
Against the Fighting Irish, senior quarterback Denard Robinson kept the ball to himself for most of the rushing attack, keeping it 26 times and gaining 95 yards.
The coaches know it’s wise to divvy up carries more evenly in order to keep Robinson healthy and get Toussaint in a consistent rhythm. Part of the reason Robinson kept the ball so often last Saturday is because Toussaint stalled in the first half, picking up just three yards on four carries.
“We just had to let our holes open up,” Toussaint said. “Just a matter of time — we have to be patient. I think that’s what we did, and we came out and played a better (second) half.
Added Michigan coach Brady Hoke: “I think both (Toussaint and the offensive line), there was some movement (in the second half), and I think he was more decisive. It was more vertical, which is something that I think he’s at his best when he is more vertical.”
Of course, late in the game, Toussaint didn’t get many handoffs because Robinson needed the ball in order to attempt his typical fourth-quarter magic against the Fighting Irish. Toussaint touched the ball for the last time with more than 13 minutes remaining in the contest, not including one play in a later drive when Robinson threw an incomplete pass when targeting Toussaint.
Last year, Toussaint finished the regular season with 1,011 rushing yards and an impressive 5.8 yards per carry. So far in 2012, as Michigan heads into Big Ten season at Purdue on Oct. 6, he’s on pace for just 550 yards.
But the season is still relatively young. Should Toussaint maintain his recent rhythm and gather more carries, he may very well beat out those projections.