Michigan's Fitz Toussiant shows early signs of awakening with season-best performance
ANN ARBOR -- Michigan lost 57.2 percent of its rushing attack when Denard Robinson crumpled to the ground against Nebraska, putting more of the rushing burden on struggling tailback Fitz Toussaint.
He responded against Northwestern, showing -- for one game, at least -- some early signs of busting out of his season-long languor.
Toussaint rushed for a season-high 92 yards on 18 carries in Saturday's 38-31 overtime win against Northwestern. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
The stats suggest it was best game of the year, and Toussaint says it was.
"I believe so," the junior said. "I never lose confidence."
Toussaint had every reason to lose confidence. He entered the game averaging 48.9 yards per game, well off his pace of 118.0 yards per game as Michigan's featured back last year.
He rushed for 1,041 yards last year, despite being the designated featured back for only six games. He has 483 yards this year with two regular-season games remaining.
Michigan has repeatedly noted that Toussaint's struggles are in part a function of the offensive line, which has played below standard for much of this season. That's especially true in the interior.
Robinson's singular rushing ability allows him to find room even when there is none, but Toussaint doesn't have the same skill.
He found a little room against Northwestern, though.
"I think we got to finish our blocks better, combination-wise," coach Brady Hoke said. "I really thought they were getting some movement -- probably not as much as we would like, because it never is."
Toussaint's day wasn't perfect. He appeared to break through with a 50-yard run, perhaps his best carry of the season, but it was spoiled by a fumble in the red zone.
He averaged 2.5 yards on his other 17 carries.
But he rushed as hard as he has all season, and showed an improved ability to break tackles, including shaking off two on a 28-yard touchdown catch.
"I did think he ran extremely hard," Hoke said. "I mean, you could hear football on the field."
Offensive coordinator Al Borges has said the key to the unit functioning at its best is getting Toussaint going, which would take pressure off the quarterback.
Toussaint's importance is now accentuated with Robinson out of the lineup. Backup Devin Gardner is elusive, but no Robinson, and Michigan has strayed from most of its designed quarterback runs.
The Wolverines operate more from under center with Gardner in the game, including employing more two-back sets and power plays.
That makes Toussaint the No. 1 rushing option with Robinson sidelined, and he will play an important role in the season's final two games against Iowa and Ohio State.
"I'm happy to see him run," junior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "I tell him every time we start a game: Start running, and we'll start blocking, and I think (Saturday) worked out that way."
"I was happy with it. Always can do some more things though, and hopefully in the future we can be more successful."