Yesterday in the bitterly cold weather, it was Michigan redshirt sophomore running back Drake Johnson who stole the show in a 34-10 win against Indiana. The Wolverines played sound offense for most of the day, but all eyes were on Johnson as he dashed through his coming-out party with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Yes, there are still three—hopefully four—more games to go this season, but I can’t help but look with bright eyes at Michigan’s future in the backfield.
Next season, Michigan will have four—maybe five—running backs I would trust in my backfield: Ty Isaac, Justice Hayes, De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green and now perhaps Johnson.
Green was making a good name for himself this season in the Wolverines’ backfield before being cut down by injury. He wasn’t going to be a 1,000-yard rusher, but you could clearly see the improvements he made in the offseason. From cutting weight to getting stronger, Green put himself in good position to find success this season. There of course was still his inability to make it through that first tackler, but in all, the signs were encouraging.
Smith and Hayes are guys I wish Michigan would use a little differently, but I still like what I’m seeing. Their speed is a nice weapon to have, and especially speaking for Hayes, getting out of the backfield to catch a pass in space and make something happen is a wonderful asset.
Isaac spent his freshman season at USC doing a lot of fill-in work—40 carries, 236 yards—but there’s no reason to think he won’t be a strong competitor in Michigan’s backfield throughout this next offseason.
And now there’s Johnson, who was finally given an opportunity, and he made the very most of it. I’m not saying one good game catapults him into a special class, but he certainly made his case against the Hoosiers, and as a result he will likely be receiving more opportunities as the season winds down.
The first thing I noticed about Johnson was his combination of speed and strength. He didn’t have a problem getting to the second level, and once he did, it took a good lick to get him on the ground. Arm tackles weren’t going to do that job against this kid. If I had to pick one trait to give to give to a running back, that would be it. The ability to break through the arms of a would-be tackler is going to go a long way throughout the course of a game and an entire season.
If Michigan’s offensive line can make the necessary improvements, I honestly don’t have a very difficult time picturing any one of these five running backs being able to make some noise out of the backfield.
Tyler Fenwick is the managing editor of TheBigHouseReport.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.