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Michigan RBs flex enough vs Hawaii to instill confidence

Photo: Andy Shippy
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan rushed for 306 yards during its 63-3 season-opening win over Hawaii, with four of its top running backs accounting for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

That’s great news for a team looking to match the potential of an increasingly potent passing game.

The bad news? After rushing six times for 27 yards, De’Veon Smith exited the game with an apparent rib injury. The senior began the year as the No. 1 option. Throughout camp, he discussed his desire to “be great” and have one of those classic-Wolverines-RB type of seasons.

You know, the 1,000-yard variety.

He’ll have to wait, though… but not for too long.

On Monday, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said he expected Smith to return this week against UCF. Then again, he could elect to rest Smith for the sake of caution.

If anything was made clear Saturday, it’s that Michigan has enough legs in the backfield to combat the early part of the schedule.

“Growing and getting better,” Harbaugh said of the depth and quality of his running backs. ” I feel like that’s a position that’s ascending and Chris Evans was extremely good — even better when you watch the tape. I thought it was good, (saw) things to get better at.”

Throughout camp, Harbaugh praised Evans… and so did everyone else. On Saturday, the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder carried the ball eight times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Ask any player, and they’ll tell you they’re not surprised. Evans was incredible during the preseason and 50-yard runs aren’t anything new.

As of now, other than Smith, Evans appears to be Michigan’s top option. But there are more candidates who are ready to contribute.

“Ty Isaac… I thought he had a good ballgame for himself,” Harbaugh continued. “Karan (Higdon) had some real good carries. And Kingston Davis showed some things there, at the end of the ballgame…”

Harbaugh knows what Smith can do when fully healthy. In the meantime, the backfield “is coming along” rather nicely for the Wolverines, who have been without a dominant rushing running back for about five years.

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Isaac, a USC transfer, brings an invaluable punch factor to the Wolverines’ ground game. On Saturday, he bulldozed nine times for 52 yards — three more yards than Hawaii’s leading rusher (Dru Brown), yet only the second-most for Michigan.

Karan Higdon, a 5-foot-10, 189-pound sophomore, rushed six times for 35 yards and a touchdown. One year ago, he showed a bit of bounce with eight carries for 16 yards during a 38-0 homecoming victory over Northwestern. He might not be a household name, but expect Higdon to figure into the equation, especially with the uncertain academic status of true freshman Kareem Walker.

A one-time heralded fullback, Davis could end becoming a cross between Isaac and Smith, with a possible splash of Evans (the big-man version, of course). At 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, Davis shouldn’t have a problem rolling over defenders with timely eight- and nine-yard carries. Probably not a home-run hitter, but a definite chain-moving force nonetheless.

In the spring, freshman offensive/defensive lineman Michael Onwenu often marveled at Davis’ fluent movement and Evans’ explosive set of feet. On Saturday, Davis performed as expected. Evans, though, surprised Onwenu to an extent.

“When I saw Chris in summer workouts — when you see Chris, you don’t think of the player that he is… you think of a book-guy,” Onwenu joked about his clean-cut, studious-looking teammate. “How he performed on Saturday, it’s just amazing. I was with him this (long), and I didn’t know he could do all that.”

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Michigan RBs flex enough vs Hawaii to instill confidence

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