Wolverines Issue of the Week: Fitz Toussaint is out, so what does Michigan do at running back?
ANN ARBOR -- In one play Saturday, Michigan showed off the full compliment of what its Denard Robinson-Devin Gardner offense can be capable of.
During the first quarter against Iowa, Gardner took a snap and handed the ball off to Robinson out of the backfield. Robinson then ran an option play down the line against an utterly confused Iowa defense before pitching the ball to Fitz Toussaint.
Toussaint then burst through a hole for 10 yards to set up a Michigan first down.
Unfortunately for Michigan, though, it was Toussaint's final play of the season -- as he left the game immediately after that carry and headed to the hospital for season-ending leg surgery.
Gardner and Robinson are an intriguing pair on the field together, but what does Michigan do at running back?
Do the Wolverines allow sophomore Thomas Rawls to fully replace Toussaint, or does Robinson see more traditional carries out of the backfield this week? Or, both?
Michigan has options here, but only one makes sense.
Coaches have said this week that Thomas Rawls will inherit Toussaint's role, now that he's out for the season, but the best move forward is to use the sophomore as a complementary piece to Denard Robinson.
The injured quarterback started last week at tailback, and lined up there frequently. Make no mistake -- he's not a tailback by trade, and probably not prepared for the beating that comes with being there full time.
But getting Robinson's explosiveness on the field is in Michigan's best interest for several reasons. He has experience in "The Game," including spearheading a streak-breaking victory last year. He has game-breaking ability. He will confuse the defense because of the uniqueness of the look and his skill set. He draws attention, which frees up others to make plays.
Rawls is a nice player, but brings none of that to the table.
Robinson should be Toussaint's primary replacement this week, even if the ball isn't always in his hands, and sub in Rawls for pass protection and short-yardage/goal-line situations.
It's the best Michigan can offer, while Robinson's elbow prevents him from quarterbacking.
It might be the best Michigan can offer, regardless.
There's a reason why Rawls didn't completely take Toussaint's job away earlier in the season. Michigan coach Brady Hoke alluded to that earlier this week, saying Rawls has has always been a gifted runner, but his ability to pick up blitzes and do all the little things at running back was still sort of a work in progress.
That process has to end now, and Rawls has to be ready for Saturday. Period.
I'm not going to be the guy who says Robinson can't take the pounding an every-down running back gets from a 25-carry performance, because, frankly, he's been a ball-carrying workhorse throughout his entire career. That's not the issue. Pass-protection and other areas of the game, though, are.
Michigan has to utilize both players in the backfield against Ohio State, in my opinion. It can't be afraid to let Rawls get some rhythm going as a power runner, and it can't be afraid to line Robinson up back there and see what he can do.
The Wolverines need 11 offensive hands on deck to beat Ohio State, and that includes Robinson -- whether he's in the backfield, in the slot or at quarterback.
What's your take? Would you rather see all Rawls, all the time? All Robinson? Or a mix of both in the backfield? Chime in with a comment below.