ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan running back Karan Higdon already has joined some rare company, but he has even loftier goals.
With his 200-yard rushing game in the win over Minnesota last week, the junior became the first Wolverines running back since Mike Hart in 2007 to record a pair of 200-yard rushing efforts in the same season.
Now Higdon is poised to become Michigan’s first 1,000-yard running back since 2011. He has three regular-season games and a bowl game to collect the 196 yards necessary to reach that milestone.
Michigan hasn’t had a 1,000-yard running back since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011, and it hasn’t had a player rush for more than 1,000 yards since 2012, when quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for 1,266 yards.
Michigan’s leading running backs since 2007
Why Karan Higdon will reach 1,000 yards
Higdon has 804 yards on 119 carries in nine games, and he is in the middle of a surge. He has averaged 150.8 yards in his last four games, topping the 100-yard mark three times in that span.
Next up for Michigan is Maryland this Saturday, and the Terrapins defense has been porous when it comes to defending the run. Maryland has the No. 11 rush defense (174.8 yards per game) in the Big Ten, and it has allowed three players to run for at least 100 yards in its last four games.
Michigan’s offensive line continues to improve, and that benefits Michigan’s backs. A month ago, some wondered if it would become a consistent unit and whether it would be able to protect its quarterback and open holes for the backs. The line now is working in sync, as it is finding its timing and executing the finer details of playing as a unit.
“Maybe you get a guy blocks for five seconds, but you don’t strain for a sixth second,” right guard Stephen Spanellis said. “Maybe you’re running downfield and you cut somebody down rather than just trying to push them forward.”
Higdon is one of Michigan’s most resourceful running backs. He’s capable of long bursts, especially in gaining yards after contact, and is quick to identify broken plays and correct them. Case in point: his touchdown in overtime against Indiana, the result of a blocking mistake by the offensive line.
“When you have a back like Karan, he’s going to make you right sometimes when you do some bad things,” Michigan center Patrick Kugler said.
Why Karan Higdon won’t reach 1,000 yards
Higdon has become as Michigan’s go-to running back, but not until the last month. With three running backs — Higdon, Ty Isaac (561 yards) and Chris Evans (527 yards) — Michigan always has another option should one falter. The Wolverines also may go to another running back who finds his in-game rhythm. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of who gets hot at the right time.
Opposing defenses may also key in on Michigan’s rushers and force the Wolverines to turn to their passing game. The Wolverines utilized their ground game against Minnesota, which allowed Higdon to register back-to-back games with at least 100 yards rushing. But Brandon Peters could go back to being an active quarterback instead of simply a game manager. That would limit the number of carries for Higdon and Michigan’s other backs.
Looking beyond the game at Maryland, Michigan will face two stout defenses (Wisconsin and Ohio State) in the final two weeks of the regular season. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten in rush defense (87.8 yards), and only one player has rushed for more than 100 yards this season against Wisconsin — Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo, who had 112 yards against the Badgers. Ohio State is sixth in the conference in rush defense (122.3 yards), but it held Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to 44 yards rushing two weeks ago.
Then comes the unknown of Michigan’s bowl opponent, which also could boast strong run-stuffing ability.
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