Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 66 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 65 RUNNING BACKS The tailbacks — from juniors De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green to redshirt sophomore Ty Isaac to a still-healing Johnson and beyond — can't succeed without the men up front. They're getting better, Karsch noted, and that will help. "For the first time in a while, you're looking at some guys who have to keep their eyes behind them, looking over their shoulder," he said of the offensive line competition. "It's up to the guys who have been there to take advantage of another year in the weight room. "There were times when I looked at the Michigan offensive line in recent years and thought they were undersized. It seems like they're starting to catch up. The difference between being a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old, and then 21, 22, is light years, from watching games at field level." Smith paced the Wolverines with 519 yards on 108 carries (4.8- yard average) and six touchdowns a year ago. He's the most physical of Michigan's running backs, and thus far has stayed the healthiest. Whether or not he grabs the role as the starter remains to be seen, Karsch said. "I would still think De'Veon has to be second or third in the peck- ing order," he said. "I'm comfortable with the idea that you're going to have three running backs all getting their share of carries, and the guys should be comfortable with it. "De'Veon, I don't think, would be the lead back, but I wouldn't count him out. It's about everything you do, not just carrying the football. It's the ability to block, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. "De'Veon is a guy that doesn't have the home run speed, but defi- nitely has shown the ability to hit a hole and to make some people miss. There does seem to be more of a ceiling with De'Veon than with some other guys, but I wouldn't count him out at this point." Green proved Michigan's top back for the first half of the season, starting six games and racking up 471 yards on 82 carries (5.7-yard Running Games Improve Under Jim Harbaugh And Tim Drevno Rushing attacks get better when Jim Harbaugh and Tim Drevno roll into town — period. The numbers don't lie. From the University of San Diego, to Stanford, to the San Francisco 49ers, it's the same story. Harbaugh and Drevno commit to getting a strong rushing attack going and make it happen. In 2003, a year prior to Harbaugh arriving at San Diego, the Toreros rushed 400 times for 1,707 yards, an average of 4.3 yards per carry. They put 18 rushing touchdowns on the board. The following year, the attack basically held steady, the Toreros going for 1,727 yards on 419 tries (4.1-yard average), although they bumped the rushing touchdowns up to 26. In 2005, they began to take off, garnering 2,251 rushing yards on 502 attempts (4.5-yard average) with 27 rushing touchdowns. Then in 2006, they rushed for 2,411 yards on 438 tries (5.5-yard average) with 32 touchdowns on the ground. The same pattern developed when Harbaugh moved on to Stanford and brought Drevno with him. While the Toreros were pounding away on the ground in 2006, the 1-11 Cardinal limped along for 781 rushing yards on 367 tries, av- eraging a miserable 2.1 yards per carry with three touchdowns on the ground the entire season. It's not like they featured an all-air attack, either, since they passed for only 2,002 yards. In 2007, Harbaugh and Drevno arrived and went to work. The Cardinal in 2007 rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns on 446 carries, featuring a still-tepid 3.0 yards per carry. Harbaugh and Drevno were merely lay- ing a foundation during that season. In 2008, Stanford cranked it up to 2,395 rushing yards on 490 tries (4.9-yard average) with 26 touchdowns on the ground. The year after that, it was 2,837 rushing yards on 536 carries (5.3-yard average) and 39 rushing touchdowns. Harbaugh's final season at Stanford featured 2,779 yards on the ground in 535 attempts (5.2-yard average) and 34 rushing touchdowns in an Orange Bowl season. While all of that was going on, the 49ers were rushing for 1,657 yards on 401 tries (4.1-yard average) with 10 touchdowns on the ground. Harbaugh and Drevno arrived the following season, and the numbers, predictably, went up. The 49ers ran the ball for 2,176 yards on 470 carries (4.6-yard average) with 10 rushing touchdowns in 2011. A year later, those numbers jumped to 2,491 rushing yards on 492 tries (5.1-yard average) with 17 touchdowns on the ground. In 2013, the 49ers scored 18 touchdowns on the ground, with 2,201 rushing yards on 505 carries (4.4-yard average). Last year, after Drevno moved on to USC, the 49ers struggled a bit more and the digits took a dip, with 2,176 yards rushing on 470 carries (4.6-yard average) and 10 touchdowns on the ground. But the pattern is clear: when Harbaugh and Drevno team up, the ground game gets better. For a Michigan program aching for a return to a more pun- ishing, physical, effective overland effort, those statistics provide considerable comfort. — John Borton Harbaugh (shown with junior running back De'Veon Smith) has a track record of committing to a strong rushing attack at every one of his coaching stops. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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