Orange Bowl Preview: Michigan Running Backs vs. Florida State Linebackers

Orange Bowl Preview: Michigan Running Backs vs. Florida State Linebackers

December 27, 2016

Matthew Thomas


Starters: Michigan’s starter is 5’11”, 228 lb. senior De’Veon Smith. Smith has twice as many carries as any other player on the team, totaling 165 carries for 810 yards (4.9 YPC) and 10 touchdowns. Smith is a powerful back who breaks tackles and runs hard, but he’s not much of a big-play threat. The high point of his season was a 23-carry, 158-yard, 2-touchdown effort against Indiana in mid-November. However, that was sandwiched by two games in which he averaged 2.3 and 2.9 YPC, against Iowa and Ohio State, respectively. Smith is also a solid pass blocker, though he doesn’t offer much in the way of receiving (13 catches, 59 yards). Redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill (6’2″, 263 lbs.) leads the team in total touchdowns, including 10 rushing scores on goal-line attempts. He also has 14 catches for 105 yards and 2 TDs.

Key backups: Freshman Chris Evans (565 yards, 7.1 YPC, 3 TDs) got the most carries of the backups by a fairly slim margin. He’s a speedster with big-play ability. Redshirt junior Ty Isaac (417 yards, 5.6 YPC, 5 TDs) plays sporadically and offers a nice combination of size and skill at 6’3″, 228. Sophomore Karan Higdon‘s (422 yards, 6.2 YPC, 6 TDs) star was rising during the first two-thirds of the season, but over the final four games, he had 15 carries for 19 yards. I’ll list redshirt junior Henry Poggi here, even though he gets about 50% of the fullback snaps; he has 1 carry for 4 yards and 6 catches for 45 yards in mostly a blocking role.

Hit the jump for more on Florida State.


Starters: The Seminoles run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense, which I’ll treat as a 4-3 since the “Buck” linebacker usually plays at the line of scrimmage. The second-leading tackler on the team is redshirt junior Matthew Thomas (6’3″, 227 lbs.), whom you might remember as the guy who obliterated Shane Morris on an ill-fated QB carry in the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game. Thomas is a lanky, speedy WILL linebacker with 62 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack on the year. The middle linebacker is 6’2″, 240 lb. Ro’Derrick Hoskins, who has 45 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks. On the strong side is 6’4″, 229 lb. Jacob Pugh, a junior who has 37 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks. The numbers overall aren’t extremely impressive, although they have a little more depth than Michigan and tend to rotate in more players.

Key backups: The most frequently used backup linebacker is a familiar name: freshman Dontavious Jackson, a 6’2″, 249-pounder who rotates in at WILL. Jackson (20 tackles, 3 TFLs, 0.5 sacks) was the guy who toyed with going to Michigan for a while and even tweeted out support of then defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, saying that Durkin was still recruiting him and wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, Durkin ended up going to Maryland, and while Jackson wasn’t likely to pick Michigan, Durkin’s departure certainly didn’t help. Freshman Emmett Rice (6’2″, 203 lbs.) is an undersized MIKE with 12 tackles on the year.

Advantage: Michigan. Even with a very good defensive line, none of Florida State’s linebackers made any of the All-ACC teams, though Thomas and Pugh were both Honorable Mention. Meanwhile, Smith was Honorable Mention for Michigan. So this isn’t exactly strength against strength. Michigan’s tailbacks leave something to be desired, but there are a few solid options and a productive fullback. With Evans’s quickness and the power of Smith, who weighs as much as two of FSU’s starting linebackers, I like this matchup for the Wolverines.


  1. Comments: 359
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Dec 27, 2016 at 9:04 AM

    I know these things go hand in hand, but I will be more confident in this advantage if/when you do your review of our OL vs their DL and the results are favorable to us.

    Even a healthy Smith needs a crack to get out of the backfield especially if they insist on running him in sweeps. Evans on the other hand needs a little less light to hit the secondary because of his quickness. Is Higdon healthy, any word on him?

    • Comments: 191
      Joined: 8/13/2015
      Dec 27, 2016 at 10:25 AM

      I hate to be a spolier, but Michigan’s O-line is mediocre and FSU’s D-line is very good, so it won’t be an advantage for us, but FSU hasn’t faced too many teams that run Michigan’s physical brand of football. So it will be interesting to see how motivated FSU will be to fight in the trenches. The matchup that we absolutely have to dominate the entire game is our D-line vs their O-line, if we do that, then we probably win.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Dec 27, 2016 at 11:28 AM

      The matchups aren’t really matchups so much as a vehicle to breakup the preview. Thunder talked about this in the QB vs QB post.

      The run game success is more dependent on the OL against the front 7 than RB vs LB for sure and I don’t think Thunder is trying to say otherwise.

      Higdon played against OSU. I have not heard he is hurt.

      • Comments: 3845
        Joined: 7/13/2015
        Dec 27, 2016 at 11:43 AM

        Correct. The WR vs. DB preview (coming later today) is more of a matchup post, but even so, the QB and the OL and the DL and the LB positions factor into the passing game. RB vs. LB and QB vs. QB are kind of the square pegs.

  2. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Dec 27, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    You remember something from Shane Morris’ HS all-star game 4 years ago!? Color me impressed.

    Interesting that FSU would rotate in a 250 pound WIL and a 200 pound MIKE.

    • Comments: 3845
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Dec 27, 2016 at 11:44 AM

      I’m weird like that.

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