Welcome to Inside The Game, a weekly discussion of some aspect of the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry with BuckeyeNation’s Austin Ward and WolverineNation’s Michael Rothstein.
Today, Ward and Rothstein continue their look at the Michigan and Ohio State rosters with a peek at the team’s running backs.
Ward: Urban Meyer identified the playmaker he needs in his spread offense.
The Ohio State coach just won’t have him available when the season starts.
Senior Jordan Hall emerged from spring practice as the starting running back, but perhaps more importantly, he’s the leading candidate for the pivot position thanks to his speed, elusiveness and versatility out of the backfield. A freak injury in the summer will keep him from locking down that spot in training camp, and Hall also figures to be on the shelf for the first two weeks of the season as he recovers from the tendon he cut in his foot after stepping on a piece of glass.
That puts the pressure on Carlos Hyde to perform early, and if he lives up to his potential as the likely feature back in September, Hall might have a hard time getting the ball back from him. But if both are healthy and productive, Meyer and the Buckeyes should have enough flexibility with the offense to make life tough for opposing defenses.
If they have to keep looking for more help, sophomore Rod Smith has shown in flashes that he could be a weapon.
Rothstein: Michigan’s best running back is its quarterback, Denard Robinson, but when it comes to the actual position, its featured back -- much like Ohio State -- is currently unavailable.
Fitzgerald Toussaint has been suspended indefinitely following a drunken driving arrest earlier this month and as long as the 1,000-yard rusher is out -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke has not set a timetable for his return -- the Wolverines will be woefully inexperienced at the position.
The bulk of the carries will likely fall to sophomore Thomas Rawls, who saw very limited action last season, or senior Vincent Smith, who is a strong back but not what Michigan wants in a featured back at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds without the speed of a Reggie Bush.
It is unlikely Toussaint will be out for the season, so at some point Michigan will have its featured runner back, but until then it’ll be a mixed bag for the Wolverines.
Hoke and Robinson both expressed a lot of confidence in Rawls at Big Ten media days, praising how difficult he is to tackle and his running style. However, if he is playing in a featured role early, he’ll be learning a lot on the fly, which could prove difficult with defending national champion Alabama as the season opener.
Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes, whose skill set is more of a hybrid back/receiver than power back, could also see some time. True freshmen Drake Johnson and Dennis Norfleet likely aren’t ready to see any time yet, especially once Toussaint returns.