Monday, June 6, 2011

Poll Results: Starting running back in 2011?

Stephen Hopkins tries to break a tackle against Bowling Green State

Recently I asked the question: Who will be Michigan's starting running back in 2011?

The results:

29% - Stephen Hopkins
28% - Michael Cox
18% - Michael Shaw
10% - Thomas Rawls
6% - Fitzgerald Toussaint
4% - Justice Hayes
2% - Vincent Smith

Some of this voting seems a bit dubious.  First of all, if you're a frequent reader, you know that I'm a fan of Michael Cox's running ability.  You've heard reasons why he didn't play much the past couple seasons (couldn't learn the plays, fumbled in practice, etc.).  But you've also seen me make a case for why his in-game production (8.9 yards a carry, frequent big plays) warrants a longer look.  Cox supposedly had a class conflict with some afternoon practices this spring, which caused him to miss some practice time.  That has reportedly hurt him in the eyes of the coaches, which doesn't make any damn sense at all.  I guess student-athletes who get punished for missing classes (they have to push a 45-pound weight plate up and down the field 15 times) ought to . . . miss classes and become athlete-students if they want to get on the field.

I can see why Hopkins would be the leading vote-getter because, after all, he was able to attend every single one of the spring practices, and that made the coaches happy.  Yet he averaged 4.1 yards a carry in 2010 (the lowest average on the team) and I didn't see a single impressive run in spring practices or in the spring game.  Of course, all the Youtube clips and highlights don't encapsulate everything a kid accomplishes over 15 practices, but one would think that a starting running back would have at least a couple highlight-worthy runs.

Shaw is another guy who seems to have been knocked down a peg or two because he had a broken hand and wore a cast for most of the spring.  He's perpetually injured but when he plays, he looks good.

The other vote-getter I take issue with is Justice Hayes.  With all the options available, 4% of voters chose Hayes.  I don't see how a 182 lb. incoming freshman is going to unseat a bunch of bigger, faster, and (in my opinion) better backs.  But especially when one considers that he received double the amount of votes as last year's starter Vincent Smith, something's wrong here.  I guess a bunch of Justice's family members must have been visiting this website over the past week.

Overall, I don't see how one can justify playing Hopkins over two guys who put up good numbers last year (Cox averaged 9.3 yards a pop; Shaw averaged 5.4 and had 9 touchdowns), but it's a new coaching staff, a new offensive system, and I guess anything can happen.


  1. I think that the Hopkins thing is the "PRO STYLE OFFENS = BIG BAK. DERP" mentality at work.

  2. Blue in South BendJune 6, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    I voted for Cox, but I don't know how much faith we can put in his average from last year. If you break down his stats, he averaged 9.3 yards per carry on 6 rushes against Bowling Green... and 0 yards on 0 carries against everyone else.

    This isn't a small sample size; this is a miniscule sample size drawn from a game against Our Sisters of the Poor and Linebackerless. Fitz Toussaint averaged 33 yards per carry in that game. Denard was on pace to earn possession of every single game record ever conceived, as well as a third of BGSU's endowment and 74% of their women. Hell, I rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown in that game.

  3. I'm not sure why you think the voting is dubious, this is a poll of people's opinions, not who will actually start.

  4. "I guess a bunch of Justice's family members must have been visiting this website over the past week."

    Or a bunch of people who were witness to the patented 2010 Vincent Smith Special, and would prefer a true freshman like Hayes to that. 1st down, QB read, except it actually was a designed handoff because Denard doesn't make good reads on the fly, Vincent Smith runs until he gets the slightest bit of contact, at which point his tiny elven body is thrown to the ground, usually about 2 yards past the line of scrimmage, and ground into dust.

    I actually love Smith, he's a great 3rd down back and deserves credit for playing so soon after an ACL injury, but he is like the opposite of gamebreaker. A back generally needs to excel at one of the three: size, speed, moves/vision. Vincent Smith was like a smaller, slower Mike Hart without the shiftiness. Maybe that was just the ACL, but it seemed like the only reason he played was he knew the playbook and didn't fumble, which is hardly a ringing endorsement. And the playbook thing is no longer applicable.

    I think the last place is warranted.

  5. I expected this poll to say conclusively that your neighbors grass is greener, but Hopkins and Shaw (two of last years 3 primary backs) finished in the top 3. I thought it'd be 1. Cox 2. Rawls 3. Toussaint or something along those lines.

    The results of last year say that Shaw/Smith/Hopkins had production that was indistinguishable. Or, to put it another way, the differences in production were statistically insignificant when taking into account opponent and situation and removing irrelevant data (like the BGSU game).

    Given how unexceptional the primary back trio looked, there is reason to think that a new-comer-to-meaningful-snaps-against-legit-competition (Cox, Toussaint, Rawls, Hayes) has a shot, but I'm not counting on it.

    The fact that there is a new staff does make the whole thing hard to guess at.

    I think Hopkins has the advantage of potentially getting a freshman to sophomore bump, but he played at a high level in High School and was pretty read-to-go.

    Cox and Shaw have pretty proven talent but I suspect their respective issues will remain pertinant with this coaching staff.

    No one has stood out and the incoming freshman don't get me too excited.


    I still say it's as likely to be Smith as anyone. I don't think RR is/was crazy. I know no one agrees with me but we'll see... I wish I could bet on this in Vegas.


  6. I appreciate your love for Michael Cox, but... I'm not buying your argument of "8.9 yards a carry, frequent big plays"

    Junior/Sophomore (2010) appeared in two contests ... made season debut at running back vs. Bowling Green (Sept. 25), rushing six times for 56 yards, including a 35-yard long... appeared as a reserve superback vs. Michigan State (Oct. 9).

    Sophomore/Freshman (2009) ... earned first varsity letter ... appeared in four games ... played three contests at running back and one contest on special teams ... carried the ball 13 times for 113 yards and scored two touchdowns ... made career debut at running back vs. Western Michigan (Sept. 5) ... rushed for 31 yards on two carries late in the fourth quarter vs. Eastern Michigan (Sept. 19) ... carried the ball 11 times for a career-high 82 yards and scored two TDs against Delaware State (Oct. 17) ... scored first collegiate touchdowns on three- and 57-yard rushes in the fourth quarter against the Hornets ... caught his first career pass for 11 yards late in the third quarter against the Hornets ... traveled but did not see game action at Illinois (Oct. 31) ... contributed on the kick return unit vs. Purdue (Nov. 7).

    Who has he played against? Nobody. Against Bowling green 6 for 56 yards is pretty good, until you realize that 35 of those yards came on 1 run. So then you have 5 rushes for 21 yards. I just don't see it, wish I did but I don't. Stephen Hopkins, Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are they only candidates that should be even considered in discussion. Give me Vinny and his 3 yard average against OSU any day before you give me Michael Shaw and his 4 yard average against Bowling Green.

  7. One imagines that Hopkins's averages fell just a little bit because he was used in a disproportionate number of short-yardage situations.

    I also recall a few games where Hopkins seemed to be the only back able to break past the line against defenses that were otherwise stuffing us. MSU in particular. If I recall correctly I'm not the only one who had this observation. It's one of the things that even admitted Rodriguez supporters were complaining about.

    I'm also fairly certain he had at least one big run in a spring highlight and got praised by the usual "insider" observer types.

    In the end though I voted for Shaw.

  8. The Hopkins hype might have to do with the MANBALL lazy meme that people on both sides of the isle (though not in the sensible middle) actually believe.

    SDSU's leading rusher last year was tiny and their offense was far from "run off tackle till the cows come home." I think fall practice will reveal quite a bit more, but I don't know if we'll have a clear starter until Big Ten season starts.

  9. @ Anonymous 4:50 p.m.

    It turns out Vincent Smith isn't opposed to fumbling, either, which he proved in the second half of the year.

    I agree that Smith looks like a good third down back, but I still think starting Smith would be a better option than starting a freshman Hayes.

  10. Fitz Toussaint won the Heisman twice in my NCAA 11 dynasty, clearly he should start :)

  11. Haha, why even take a poll?!

    Don't you realize that it's your OWN "frequent readers" who answered your question? Granted I agree with your argument on some level, but you've got to respect our opinion, man. Jeez, give us some credit for reading your blog over the 1,000 Meech-blogs out there.

  12. @ Anonymous 6:52 p.m.

    You're right that Cox hasn't played against great competition, and I will freely admit that. But the fact is that he's done well whenever he's been on the field. And you're right that IF you take away his 35-yarder, he only had 5 carries for 21 yards . . . but that's 4.2 yards (only slightly worse than Smith's overall average) a carry when you SUBTRACT a huge play.

    Just for poops and giggles, let's take away Vincent Smith's longest run (56 yards against Indiana). His average drops from 4.4 yards a carry in 2010 . . . all the way down to 4.03 yards a carry.

  13. @ GregGoBlue 10:03 p.m.

    lol I don't know who voted on the poll. It could be random people stumbling across my blog for the first time, or it might be Michael Cox and Stephen Hopkins themselves. I just think the voting ended up a wee bit twisted down near the bottom.

    And if you "frequent readers" were the lemmings I wish you all were, you would agree with me! What's wrong with you?!?! Having minds of your own?! That's ridiculous.

  14. @ Everyone

    By the way, a recent article on might answer our question in a timely fashion. Hayes admits that he probably won't contribute much at running back this year:

  15. If Cox was legitimately good, there is no way he rides the pine all of these years while UM's RB production stinks. We are starting to get into conspiracy theories now that he is not currying favor with the new staff either. It's possible that he or Shaw blossom as 4th year players, but that would be extraordinary. I am fairly confident that the answer in 2011 will not be a player who has been riding pine three years.

  16. Painter Smurf,

    How soon you forget the McGuffie-over-Minor decision in 2008. Benching Cox wouldn't be the first questionable Rodriguez running back decision.

    There are no conspiracies afoot; there are just reports from people who claim to have "inside information," meaning about 5% of these people are actually credible.

  17. @ Painter Smurf 10:58 p.m.

    It's not a conspiracy theory about Cox. The coaches said that he's "behind" because he missed some spring practices to go to class.

    You can believe what you wish, and that's fine. Personally, I have a hard time believing that a guy who's averaged 9 yards a carry and ripped off a 68-yard TD run in the spring game (which was one of only two big runs in the spring game) should be kept off the field. He might not deserve to start, but he probably doesn't deserve to be sitting on the bench the entire game, either.

  18. If it only required heart and cojones my choice woud be Vincent Smith.

  19. @David

    The 'sensible middle' is in most cases also lazy.

    Shaw was actually RR's first choice to start the opener (over McGuffie).

  20. The McGuffie over Minor thing was short-lived - half a season at most. Now if Cox were good and he still rode the pine the last three years while the RB position sputtered for the most part, that would indeed be a conspiracy. That would be an unprecedented stay in the doghouse. But maybe RR's problem with Cox was more substantial than his desire to gain rushing yards. But if Cox starts the season buried or in the doghouse with Hoke as well, I think we can conclude that Cox is missing something significant. I am as hopeful as anyone that Cox breaks out this year, because UM could really use a big, fast back. I would just be surprised.

  21. I want our RB next year to be over 200 lbs. In a recent article on Michigan's rivals site, the writer listed who he thinks are the best RBs in the B1G. The top 5 guys were all over 200 lbs. That is why I think guys like Cox, Toussaint and Rawls will have the biggest impact. Hopkins fits that mold, but he lacks the speed that the other guys have.

  22. [WillyWill9] I think Shaw will develop into our starting RB (much like Minor.) I also think he may miss a few snaps due to injury, and that's where Cox may emerge. Hopkins is definitely going to be getting a good number of snaps, but i think those 3 will be the primary RBs.

  23. One thing that seems to missing in all of the discussion regarding the potential starting running back is the fact the offensive system was not designed for a running game. For any back to effective, he needs more than five carries per game. The offensive line must be able to run block. I did not see much of that last year. Hopkins is accustom to carrying the ball 20 to 30 times a game. I suspect the same is true for all the other backs. We will have to wait and see resiliant enough to be an every down back.