Since late July, fans and reporters have been debating the hot-button issue: Would running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark play against Alabama?
Arguments were brought up: Did it matter that it was Alabama? Did it matter that it was such a big stage? Did it matter that Toussaint pleaded to a lesser offense this week? Did it mean something that both had been practicing with the team?
But on Friday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke stuck to his guns by suspending both players and not even allowing them to take the trip with the team to Dallas. Since arriving at Michigan, Hoke has made it clear that he wants to run a disciplined program that teaches players how to be men. And this makes his statement loud and clear: If you mess up, you will pay the price.
Without Toussaint -- last season’s lead running back -- on the field for the Wolverines, Michigan’s chances diminish even more.
In Alabama’s only loss last season, the Crimson Tide gave up 148 yards on the ground to LSU, more than double their season-end average. In order to really attack the Alabama defense, Michigan knew it needed a dual threat, and while quarterback Denard Robinson provides that by himself, Robinson also needed someone to help carry the burden of carries.
Now, the Wolverines will likely turn to a running back by committee -- not preferred by Hoke or offensive coordinator Al Borges -- of sophomore Thomas Rawls, senior Vincent Smith and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes. It’s a relatively untested group, with the most experienced player being Smith, who was the team’s third-leading rusher in 2011 (behind Robinson and Toussaint) with 298 yards. Rawls was the team’s fifth-leading rusher with 79 yards.
Undoubtedly, it will be much easier for the Wolverines to fill the void left at defensive end by Clark. Michigan had already decided to move junior Jibreel Black over to DE in order to give the defensive line a bigger look. Black outweighs Clark by 17 pounds.
Both cases were precedents for Hoke. No reporter really knew where to turn and say, “Well, this is what Hoke has done in the past with something like this.” Everyone knew that he wanted to run a strict program that taught the difference between right and wrong. But no one knew where that line was drawn in the sand.