Starter: Redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint began the season alternating with junior Vincent Smith, but Toussaint quickly took the lead in the race to be the lead back. Toussaint finished the season with 174 carries for 1,011 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and 9 touchdowns. Toussaint has the toughness to break tackles, the stop-and-go moves to make people miss, and enough speed to be a breakaway threat. Sophomore fullback Stephen Hopkins has carried 11 times for 43 yards (3.9 yards per carry).
Backups: Smith is the third down and change-of-pace back. He rushed the ball 49 times for 296 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns. Despite being only 5’6″ and 172 lbs., he’s the superior blocker. Smith has also caught 10 passes for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns. Senior Michael Shaw is the next guy in; he finished the regular season with 31 carries for 199 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns.
Starter: Junior David Wilson has started all 13 games and finished the season with 266 carries for 1,627 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and 9 touchdowns. Wilson has also caught 21 passes for 126 yards (6.0 yards per catch) and 1 touchdown. Redshirt junior fullback Joey Phillips has 3 carries for 2 yards on the season with zero touchdowns; he has yet to catch a pass.
Backups: Fifth year senior Josh Oglesby has 90 carries for 336 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and 6 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Tony Gregory has the next most carries with 16 for just 27 yards (1.7 yards per carry).
Wilson is the more accomplished back. He leads Toussaint in yardage and yards per carry. Wilson has at least one explosive play (20+ yards) in 10 out of his 13 games, and his only sub-80-yard rushing effort of the season came against Clemson in the ACC Championship. Toussaint is also less effective and almost non-existent in the passing game (5 catches, 14 yards, 1 touchdown) than Wilson. Fortunately for Michigan the Wolverines have significantly more depth at the position with two backups who have starting experience and a fullback who can run a little bit, too. If there’s an injury to either running back, Michigan is more able to withstand the blow.
Running back play is largely dependent on the offensive line (which we’ll discuss another day), but this is a near wash when both teams are at full strength. Wilson is not only the First Team All-ACC running back, but has also been voted the conference’s top overall player and was recently voted to the All-America team. Toussaint would very likely have been All-Big Ten if not for the early-season platoon and missing one game due to injury. With a superior fullback and experienced, potentially explosive backups, I have to give the advantage to . . .