- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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The running back position initially was a question of young blood versus a veteran this season.
Fitzgerald Toussaint was returning from the type of injury that makes everyone want him to succeed again. But there was uncertainty on whether he'd return to his previous form. And when Derrick Green came in overweight and slower than anticipated, the coaches chose their loyalty to Toussaint.
It worked for awhile, but eventually changes had to be made. By the end of the season, it seemed as though Green had positioned himself as the No. 1 guy, but the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl threw all preconceived notions out the window.
THE GOOD: This, like the quarterback position, is so dependent on the offensive line. And like Devin Gardner, the running backs showed their best flashes late in the season when the O-line was finally starting to get its act together.
Against Ohio State, the Wolverines averaged 4.3 yards per rush, as Green had 12 carries for 47 yards, De’Veon Smith added 57 yards on seven carries, and Toussaint picked up five carries for 33 yards and one of the Wolverines’ two rushing touchdowns. On the season, the Buckeyes held opponents to just 3.3 yards per rush. So this game proved that when the O-line did work together, the running backs could exceed expectations (especially against a talented group).
THE BAD: Michigan accounted for more rushing yards than its opponents' season average in just six of 13 games. In fact, 49 percent of the Wolverines total rushing yards came from games featuring the four worst rushing defenses (Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Indiana and Northwestern).
Michigan picked up 795 of its 1,634 yards in those four games, including 15 of its 27 rushing touchdowns. In comparison, against the four best rushing defenses the Wolverines played, Michigan averaged just 89 yards per game.
It’s not a problem when they're picking up major yardage against teams that don’t have strong rushing defenses, but when the discrepancy is that big (110 yards), there’s an issue. And when they did underachieve, it was noticeable.
Four times this season Michigan’s run game was so poor that it was held at least 65 yards below its opponents’ season average for rushing defense.
THE FUTURE: Green and Smith definitely have a future with Michigan. Both showed tons of potential, and they'll have the offseason to continue getting their bodies in better shape.
And with an offensive line that shouldn’t heavily feature any freshmen next season, Green and Smith can run behind a cohesive group.
And looking even further into the future, the Wolverines, who didn't pick up a 2014 RB commitment, got a verbal from Damien Harris, the nation's top RB in 2015.