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Friday Focus: Michigan Wolverine running back Fitzgerald Toussaint

Adam DiBartolomeoAfter losing to Nebraska last week with another lackluster offensive performance, Michigan now has zero margin for error regarding the Legends Division Championship.  They must win, at a minimum, the next three games.

In order to do that they must do something they have been unable to do in two games…score touchdowns.  In order to score touchdowns they must be able to run the football effectively with players other than Denard Robinson.  Especially if his elbow prevents him from playing at his best, limits his playing time, or, Heaven help us, if he can’t play at all.

We can all point fingers at the play-calling, the offensive line (which is part of the problem), etc. but the bottom line is the featured running back is the one who will have the black and white statistics next to his name.  Fitzgerald Toussaint remains, for better or for worse, the go-to guy for Team 133.  Therefore, he will be the player who gets judged regarding the running game and so he is our focus for Saturday’s match-up against the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.

Toussaint has had troubles finding daylight all season.

I think it’s safe to say at this point that Toussaint has not lived up to expectations for this season.  In the off-season he said his goal was to reach 1,600 yards.  He’s not going to sniff that number.  He may not even hit 1,000 yards.

He has been highly ineffective and it has handcuffed the Michigan offense and left Team 133 with no chance to pull out a victory in Lincoln without “Shoelace” last week.  The numbers on the season tell the story:

  • LONG – 38
  • TD – 4

That’s just not good enough.  When this offense was humming last season defenses had to worry about both Denard and Fitz.  As the weeks go by defenses are focusing on taking away Robinson’s big plays assuming Toussaint will not capitalize.  So far, especially the last few weeks, they have been right.

I am not oblivious to the fact that all of the blame does not rest on his shoulders.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  At all levels of football it starts up front and the offensive line is not opening up the necessary holes on a consistent basis for him to gash defenses like he did in 2011.

However, Toussaint has also missed some of the holes that have been there by running more east and west as opposed to north and south which has resulted in the loss of yardage.  He has to attack the holes hard and take any yards he can get.  But yes, the offensive line needs to be better.

Many have said that the play-calling has been very predictable and too conservative.  I know this is a bit of an exaggeration but I can’t really argue with the fans that say it seems as if the Wolverines only run five different running plays whether it be with Robinson, Toussaint, Gallon, etc.

Regardless of the actual number, opposing defenses haven’t exactly been kept on their heels in the last two weeks.  I appreciate simplifying things to limit turnovers but there has to be some creativity and/or diversity.  Michigan has some superior athletes and this is big time football.  Let’s not go back to running the Wing-T.  Vanilla is not working, it may be time to throw a few sprinkles on that sundae.

I feel like this has been said for a few weeks this season, but this week could be a good opportunity, if not the best opportunity, for Fitz to break out.  The Gopher defense, particularly their rush defense, is not very imposing.  If these statistics don’t present an opportunity I don’t know what will:

  • POINTS PER GAME – 23.13 (43rd Nationally)
  • TOTAL YARDS PER GAME – 337.88 (27th Nationally)
  • RED ZONE DEFENSE – 87% SCORING RATE (95th Nationally)
  • RUSHING YARDS PER GAME – 178.0 (83rd Nationally)

For Toussaint, the time must be now.  With the possibility of Denard not being able to carry the load this week, it’s time for him to take advantage of a defense that struggles, particularly against the run.  The Gophers’ defense is not Nebraska, they are not  MSU, and they are certainly not Alabama.  Fitz must earn his spot as the team’s number one RB.

We do not know how much Denard will play on Saturday or how effective he will be when he does.

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Michigan offense this week, specifically regarding the QB position.

When that is the case, it is the running back’s job to take some of the heat off by being productive and keeping a defense honest.  Production of 3.3 ypc is not going to cut it if Denard can’t do his weekly impression of Superman.  I’m looking for a 100-yard, 2-TD performance minimum on Saturday from Toussaint.

Minnesota’s rush defense is atrocious and Denard, assuming he plays, needs to be kept clean and hits to that elbow need to be few and far between.  No more excuses.  Get it done.

As stated above, this is a team game and will take a team effort.  The coaches need to call the plays that can get Toussaint going.  The offensive line needs to create holes to run through and Toussaint needs to hit those holes and hit them hard running north and south.  He can dance all he wants when he gets to the secondary.

For the Michigan offense to become efficient enough to not only beat Minnesota, but to win the B1G, Toussaint has to become a legitimate threat to defenses.  If not, Brendan Gibbons’ leg may fall off from kicking five FGs per game.


You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamdibart.

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