Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 42 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 41 BY MICHAEL SPATH J im Harbaugh held the Michigan single-season passing record, with 2,729 yards in 1986, for 16 seasons before John Navarre eclipsed his mark with 2,905 yards in 2002. Marquise Walker became the first U-M receiver to catch 80 balls when he grabbed 86 in 2001, but two years later, Braylon Ed- wards came close to the mark by snaring 85, and in 2004, Edwards set the school single- season receptions record with 97 catches. Some Michigan records have remained elusive — Tom Curtis still holds the single- season interceptions mark with 10 in 1968, while tailback Ron Johnson's 19 rushing touchdowns in 1968 have stood for 47 years as the benchmark tally. But the single-season rushing record? Certainly, with the ball carriers that have donned the winged helmet over the past two decades — Anthony Thomas (4,472 yards from 1997-2000), Chris Perry (3,696 yards from 2000-03), Mike Hart (5,040 yards from 2004-07) and Denard Robinson (4,495 yards from 2009-12) — there was a fair expecta- tion that Tshimanga Biakabutuka's 1,818- yard campaign in 1995 would have been surpassed by now. Instead, entering the 2015 season, it still stands. Thomas came the closest, totaling 1,733 yards in 12 games during the 2000 season, and had he played in a 13th game, like Bi- akabutuka did in 1995, he might own the single-season record — he was on pace for 1,877 yards. Hart rushed for 1,078 yards in the first seven games of the 2007 campaign, averag- ing 154.0 per contest, before missing three of the next four Saturdays with an ankle in- jury. Had Hart stayed healthy and continued at his torrid rate, he could have been the first 2,000-yard rusher in program history. "I really thought Mike Hart was going to break it, or Denard Robinson, but both those guys had some injuries, and a lot has to go right for you," said Biakabutuka, who dealt with a shoulder injury early in the 1995 season. "I was hurt, but I didn't miss a game. I still had some carries the first two weeks, and without those 15 touches, I don't break the record." Biakabutuka actually trailed Jamie Morris (1,703 yards in 1987) by 292 yards going into the regular-season finale against Ohio State. Averaging 128.3 yards per game in U- M's first 11 contests, the Longueil, Quebec, native was not on pace to top Morris. On that brisk Nov. 25 afternoon, though, something magical occurred, and made those involved — teammates, coaches and Biaka- butuka himself — more appreciative of the record-setting performance. "I'm from Miami and grew up on some out- standing University of Miami running backs," said All-American center Rod Payne (1993- 96). "I've seen some great running backs since, and I blocked for guys in the NFL like Ki-Jana Carter and Corey Dillon, but I want to make this clear, I have never seen a running back do what Tshimanga did that year. "He had the most incredible feet in the world, and he was strong and powerful, and he could make you miss. "I'm not surprised he rushed for 300 yards or had the rushing record in 1995 because if you ask me, Tshimanga Biakabutuka is the most dominant running back I've ever seen." Proving He Deserved To Be The Starter This story could start in many places, at many different times. It could begin in Kin- shasa, Zaire, in 1980, when a 6-year old Biakabutuka immigrated with his family to Montreal to forge a life of possibilities and escape dictatorial rule. It could start on a practice field in Ann Ar- bor in 1992, when Biakabutuka first caught the eye of the coaching staff at a Michi- gan summer football camp, leading then- assistant coach Lloyd Carr to visit Montreal repeatedly for recruiting trips. It could start in a dorm room when Biaka- butuka had to make the decision to adopt a more focused approach to football, school and social life after freshman and sophomore years of immaturity, wallowing and carous- ing led his coaches to wonder if the talented runner was worth the headache. But fast-forward past all that because this is a story about a season, from the moment it commenced with preseason practice in Au- gust until the moment it ended on Dec. 28, 1995. On the surface, it appeared Tyrone Wheat- ley (1991-94) had left a crater-sized hole to be filled. In each of his final three seasons, Wheatley rushed for 1,000 yards, becoming only the second running back in school his- tory to hit the 1,000-yard mark three times (Morris is the other, 1985-87). But this was the Michigan football of old, when 1,000-yard rushers were waiting patiently for their turn — in six of eight instances from 1975-1990 when a 1,000- yard rusher left U-M, a different Wolverine tailback achieved that mark the following season — and Biakabutuka was ready. In 1994, he had started the first two games of the season in place of an injured Wheat- ley, rushing for 128 yards against Boston College and 100 against Notre Dame, and he would finish his sophomore season with 783 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries (6.2-yard average). "He had shown us enough that we felt very, very confident he was going to develop into an outstanding tailback," said Carr, who was promoted to interim head coach in 1995. "We had some other good running backs on that team — Ed Davis was a senior, Chris Howard and Chris Floyd were sophomores and had run well in their brief opportunities as freshmen. But we thought that Tshimanga could be special, and we were absolutely confident he would have a great season." The coaches believed, and, just as impor- tant, his teammates were convinced, Biaka- butuka would be a difference-maker. MAKING MAGIC With One Of The Great Performances Ever Versus Ohio State, Tshimanga Biakabutuka Set The Michigan Single-Season Rushing Record In 1995 Versus the Buckeyes in 1995, Biakabutuka carried 37 times for 313 yards (8.5-yard aver- age) and one touchdown in leading Michigan to a 31-23 win over No. 2-ranked Ohio State. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

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