The lack of a rushing attack has been one of the most pressing issues facing the Michigan Wolverines this season.
Now at 3-2 and back in the AP Top 25, the 25th-ranked Wolverines look as if they're on their way to becoming stable enough to compete for a Big Ten championship.
Michigan's defense looked great this past Saturday during its 44-13 drubbing of the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. The offense, minus a turnover, was effective and nearly mistake-free.
Quarterback Denard Robinson spearheaded a ground game that produced 304 yards; however, he accounted for 235 of those yards.
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint scored two early touchdowns, but he struggled to maintain any type of consistency when carrying the ball. Nineteen-yard, 17-carry performances (12 carries for fewer than two yards) won't cut it as the Wolverines move forward.
Toussaint has seemingly become a liability for the offense. His contributions just haven't produced. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2011, but he's in the midst of a monumental slump with just 169 yards and three touchdowns on 53 carries—and two of those touchdowns were short-yardage goal-line bursts this past Saturday against the Boilermakers.
Toussaint has yet to eclipse the 100-yard mark this fall; that's not cause to panic, but take a look at what he's done thus far: 58 yards in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame (long of 31), 85 yards in a 63-13 win over UMass, and seven yards in a 31-25 victory over the Air Force.
Michigan needs Toussaint to bloom, or he could be in danger of slipping down the depth chart to make room for sophomore Thomas Rawls, who ran 33 yards on four carries—including a seven-yard score—against Purdue.
But a change doesn't seem like it's in the cards, at least not yet. Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan believes in Toussaint, and the same is true among others in the Wolverines locker room.
"He's an unbelievable athlete, and I'm not a defensive coordinator, but he has the ability to run the ball," Lewan told MLive.com after the victory over Purdue. "They gave us Denard, but on a lot of those plays, if Denard would have handed the ball off, I think Fitz would have had the same success."
Lewan's point is well-taken, but perhaps he's being too optimistic. You have to respect a guy for not publicly ridiculing a teammate, but at the same time, the Michigan offense has to be frustrated that such an "unbelievable athlete" has hit the skids.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke has said that he's not thrilled with the way his team—minus Robinson—has run the ball through five games. Offensive coordinator Al Borges' game plans have given Toussaint plenty of opportunities to produce, but those attempts are often drive-stalling, rather than drive-assisting.
Toussaint doesn't make the run game worse; however, he hasn't helped it, either. It's time for Michigan to look elsewhere for production until Toussaint demonstrates the ability to un-slump himself.
The below video shows (at 2:45 and beyond) Rawls running the way that Toussaint ran in 2011. Granted, Rawls' time came during when the Wolverines had a commanding 34-13 lead over the Boilermakers late in the fourth quarter, but Michigan needs this type of punch on the ground if it's going to effectively run the ball against Big Ten opponents.
The below video shows Toussaint in 2011, fighting for yards with authority, using his agility and power to weave through defenses and break tackles. This year, though, has been drastically different. Toussaint has relied too much on an east-west approach, rather than attacking open lanes and vertically challenging defenders.
Is it time for a change at running back? Should the Wolverines insert Rawls back into the starting role, or should they have faith in Toussaint and hope that he rises above his struggles? Make your choice in the poll and please explain your choice and reasoning in the comments section.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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