Michigan RB Ty Isaac emerges, flourishes as third- and fourth-down threat

ARLINGTON, Texas — This was the Ty Isaac we’ve expected to see. Not the Ty Isaac who left USC to return to the Midwest after one year, and not the Ty Isaac who was barred from games in Jim Harbaugh’s first season as the Michigan football team’s head coach.

Isaac flourished in Michigan’s 33-17 win Saturday against Florida at AT&T Stadium. This is the Ty Isaac whom many projected as a power running back and a force in Michigan’s offense. This is the Ty Isaac whom many expected once he came out of NCAA-imposed exile as a transfer from USC after the 2014 season.

Isaac led all rushers with 114 yards on 11 carries, but that may have been lost in the excitement — and, to a certain extent, the surprise — of No. 11 Michigan’s win against No. 17 Florida.

Michigan wielded an extremely balanced offense against the Gators. Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight rebounded from a pair of second-quarter interceptions to finish 11-for-25 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Isaac, meanwhile, showed a penchant for long runs at opportune times, including three notable ones:

  • A 36-yard run on third-and-13 that put Michigan at the Florida 16 midway through the first quarter.
  • An 18-yard run on fourth-and 1 that put the Wolverines at the Florida 38 early in the second half.
  • A 14-yard carry on third-and-13 that put Michigan at the Florida 49 with about six minutes left in the third quarter.

“I told coach Jay [Harbaugh], ‘man, I like converting,’ so whatever we‘ve got to do,” Isaac said on Michigan radio’s postgame show. “They call great plays and, most importantly, the guys blocked really well and just opened up for me.”

Outside of the radio hit and a postgame sideline interview with ESPN, Isaac didn’t meet with the media Saturday night. Only three players on Michigan’s offense did: Speight, tight end Nick Eubanks and wide receiver Tarik Black.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, however, praised Isaac.

“We called some off-schedule, third-down runs, third-and-10, third-and-12, third-and-8, and we were able to pick those up through the running game,” Harbaugh said. “And Ty Isaac did a great job. So, really happy for him. That really gave us a boost, got us off. We were very balanced in running the football and throwing the football.”

A fifth-year breakout

Isaac, a fifth-year senior, had his best rushing performance at Michigan in nearly two years; Isaac ran for 114 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries in a 28-7 win against UNLV on Sept. 19, 2015.

Saturday in Arlington, Isaac looked more like the 4-star prospect many expected him to be when he joined USC in the fall of 2013 out of Joliet (Ill.) Catholic Academy, and less like a downtrodden transfer who didn’t even travel with the Wolverines in the second half of the 2015 season.

Being sequestered to the bench forced Isaac to learn what he needed to do to be successful. He needed to improve his conditioning, improve his attitude, and improve his stamina. He dropped 15 pounds entering the 2016 season, then lost more entering his final season of college football.

“If you want to push yourself physically, you have to be in better shape,” Isaac said back on Aug. 22. “I feel better now. Certain situations where I know they’re taxing situations, I come out and I know I don’t feel as tired as I normally would.”

Now, Michigan has a problem — two immediate options at running back — that some other teams in college football might envy. Isaac and sophomore Chris Evans combined for 192 yards on 33 carries against the Gators, validating the debut of running backs coach Jay Harbaugh. He had never coached running backs prior to January.

Jay Harbaugh wouldn’t give away his strategy last week, save for saying “there’s going to be a little bit of specialization.”

Jay Harbaugh’s long-term modus operandi for his running backs remains to be seen. But the short-term answer came Saturday against the Gators. Isaac gave Michigan not only a strong option, but situational confidence.

The post Michigan RB Ty Isaac emerges, flourishes as third- and fourth-down threat appeared first on Land of 10.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.