Hoke brings up RB by committee

Breakout games for Rawls, Hayes put Toussaint on possible alert

Updated: October 15, 2012, 3:57 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Around this time last season, Fitzgerald Toussaint started to emerge. He began to take carries that had been spread among the Michigan running backs and transformed them into his own.

A season later, he could be close to seeing some of those carries return to everyone else.

[+] EnlargeJustice Hayes
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireRedshirt freshman Justice Hayes rushed for a career-high 66 yards against Illinois.
The redshirt junior has struggled all season, sometimes because holes were not there from his offensive line, sometimes because opponents focused on removing him from the game, and other times because he wasn't doing as well as he needed, often running sideways instead of trying to burst through holes.

After a game Saturday which saw more split carries than at any point this season and saw good production at times from sophomore Thomas Rawls and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes, Michigan coach Brady Hoke indicated if Toussaint continues to struggle, he could go to either of those players or senior Vincent Smith sooner.

"That's a fair assessment," Hoke said. "It's good to see Justice get good work and Thomas, catching the one ball in a critical third down. That's not something we've done a lot with him. But he ran a good route and secured the football in a little bit of traffic."

That said, Hoke reiterated the job is still Toussaint's to lose and the Youngstown, Ohio, native had his second-most productive game of the season, gaining 62 yards on a season-high 18 carries.

Rawls had a career-high 90 rushing yards on Saturday, and Hayes hit his career high with 66 yards.

"It just depends how the flow of the game goes, as much as anything," Hoke said.

The other question, of course, is how much Michigan truly needs its running backs to be productive to have overall success. The easy answer is, it helps.

When Toussaint or Vincent Smith has gone over 100 yards in his career, Michigan is 7-0. When Denard Robinson hits the 100-yard mark, Michigan is 14-4, including a 9-0 mark under Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Robinson has had no problems this season, as he has gone over 100 yards in all four Michigan wins, is fourth in the FBS in rushing at 134 yards a game and has an outside chance of setting the Wolverines' career rushing mark held by Mike Hart, with 5,030 yards.

As the Wolverines have gone to more of a run-based approach the past two weeks, the entire team has thrived.

"We've had success running the ball and that's the key right now," Robinson said. "The offensive line is blocking well and that's the key to us winning right now. We're playing well and running the ball well."

Much of that is for Robinson, who has been consistent as a ground-gainer this season after barely running the ball in the season opener against Alabama. Some help -- and potentially balance -- is coming.

Or at the very least in Rawls and Hayes, a potential glimpse of Michigan's rushers for the future.

"Both of them have progressed. Both of them have matured," Hoke said. "Both of them have a better grasp of the offense and that's always where it starts. If you understand it better and not just throwing a guy in there on runs, I think that helps.

"With Justice, it helped a little bit Vince didn't play, nursing him a little bit with hamstrings, and it gave him some opportunities that were very positive."

What Michigan does with its depth still might be unclear -- and dependent on Toussaint's ability to rediscover his game -- but one thing is becoming evident: The Wolverines have options besides their quarterback.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter