|John Hubert (#33) is essentially Kansas State's only running back.|
Starters: Late in the season, freshman Derrick Green (5'11", 240 lbs.) essentially took over the starting role and bowled his way to 265 yards and 2 touchdowns on 82 carries, a 3.2-yard average. Green looks to be the guy, but really, any of three players could garner the bulk of the attempts. He has some giddyup, but mostly, he's a between-the-tackles runner who won't make many people miss. The other likely option is fifth year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint (5'10", 200 lbs.), a scatback type who has been slowed a tiny bit since a broken ankle suffered in 2012. He's started most of the games this year and has 183 carries for 646 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, plus 17 catches for 203 yards. Toussaint has the best big-play ability of the backs and seems to have taken on more of the third down back type snaps late in the season. The starting fullback is redshirt sophomore Joe Kerridge (6'0", 238 lbs.), who has 1 carry and 5 catches on the season, mostly playing the role of a lead blocker.
Backups: Freshman De'Veon Smith (5'11", 224 lbs.) is the main backup after the first two guys, and he's a ball of churning legs who runs like I imagine a stegosaurus might: slowly but dangerously for anyone trying to bring him down. He has just 22 carries on the year for 110 yards, but his best game came in the regular season finale against Ohio State (7 carries, 57 yards). Redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes (5'10", 192 lbs.) is mostly a third down back and has spent some time at slot receiver; he has just 1 carry for 7 yards on the year, plus 3 catches for 18 yards. I do not expect to see him much. Sophomore fullback Sione Houma (6'0", 231 lbs.) has 1 catch for 9 yards and fills in occasionally for Kerridge.
Starter: Fifth year senior John Hubert (5'7", 191 lbs.) gets the vast majority of the running back carries and will likely surpass 1,000 yards in the bowl game; he currently has 182 carries for 968 yards and 9 touchdowns. He runs with a fair amount of power and quickness and has gone over 900 yards for three consecutive years. Look for Hubert to try to take advantage of cutback lanes out of the pistol, and he's quick enough to get on the edge with some option looks. The Wolverines are solid against the run, but Hubert presents a challenge and is coming off a 220-yard performance against Kansas. Redshirt freshman Glenn Gronkowski (6'3", 234 lbs.) is the younger brother of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and the starting fullback. He's rarely used in the running game, but he has 4 catches for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns; his scores have gone for 67, 50, and 29 yards, so he can be dangerous out of the backfield.
Backups: Senior Robert Rose (5'4", 176 lbs. and no, that's not a typo) is the only notable backup, but he has 22 carries for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns. Co-starting quarterback Daniel Sams (profiled yesterday) is essentially Hubert's partner in crime in the backfield.
Michigan's running backs have yet to put fear into anyone this season, and despite a slight improvement in the running game over the past couple contests, the likelihood is small that Michigan blows the doors off KSU on the ground. Of course, much of that is the result of a young, underperforming offensive line. Meanwhile, Hubert has had more room to run than Michigan's guys, and he has a skill of elusiveness that . . . uh . . . eludes Michigan's trio of runners. We have seen the Wolverines come out with some innovative game plans in recent years (2008 against Florida, 2013 against South Carolina), but offensive coordinator Al Borges has limited options with what his line can block and what his backs can do. The Wolverines will probably do what they've been doing over the past couple games (lots of inside zones, bubble screen draws), and the Wildcats will also probably try to do what they do best and run inside zones and some powers with Hubert and Sams.
ADVANTAGE: Kansas State