LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Just when it looked as though Michigan’s hunt for a running back to carry the load and lessen the burden on Denard Robinson was over, coach Brady Hoke wasn’t ready to call off the search.
Fitzgerald Toussaint had career highs with 170 yards rushing and 20 carries and matched a personal best with two touchdowns in the Wolverines’ 36-14 win over Purdue on Saturday.
So, did he do enough to win the job?
“I don’t know,” Hoke insisted. “We’ll see.”
Perhaps Hoke is simply trying to keep Toussaint humble and hungry in the hopes of getting consistency from him for a change.
No. 13 Michigan plays at Iowa this week and is on the road again Nov. 12 against Illinois before closing the regular season by hosting Nebraska and rival Ohio State at the Big House.
Toussaint had just two opportunities to run in the previous game, a loss at Michigan State, in what might’ve been the latest message from Hoke and his coaching staff that more was expected from him on a weekly basis.
After running for 108 yards a month ago against Minnesota, he gained just 25 yards on 14 carries the following game at Northwestern.
Hoke, though, probably liked what he heard Toussaint say when the redshirt sophomore was asked if his breakout performance against the Boilermakers showed he can be the team’s lead running back.
“I still feel like every Tuesday and throughout the whole week, just compete,” said the native of Youngstown, Ohio.
Toussaint started the season opener, but Michael Shaw was at running back for the first snap the next week against Notre Dame. Toussaint won the job back for the third and fourth games only to have Vincent Smith start against Minnesota before being back in a first-string role again for the past three games.
On his best run against Purdue, he displayed poise, power and speed on his 59-yard TD.
Toussaint took a pitch to the left from backup quarterback Devin Gardner, who faked a handoff to Robinson, cut back across the field, wisely used blocks and burst through a lane between defenders and into the end zone.
When Toussaint saw daylight, he could almost hear running backs coach Fred Jackson talking to him.
“Coach Jackson always stresses, when you see a crease, shoot through like a cannon,” Toussaint said. “That’s what I did, but credit goes out to the offensive line.”
Michigan moved into a three-way tie with the Spartans and Cornhuskers in the Big Ten’s Legends Division after bouncing back from a loss to Michigan State with a win in the following game for the first time in four years.
“It’s not how you have adversity, it is really how you respond to it,” Toussaint said. “We knew we had two weeks to get prepared for this game and we did what we had to do.”
Now, teams have to prepare for Michigan’s two-quarterback sets because they’re here to stay.
Gardner got multiple snaps with Robinson on the field, usually in the backfield and sometimes as a slot receiver in motion. Sometimes Robinson took the handoff, but at others, he was just a decoy who pulled the defense one way only to have the ball going in the opposite direction.
“There’s more we can do with it,” Hoke said. “But it forces a defense to spend 10 minutes a day on that package. I think that helps us.”
And if Michigan can sustain a running game — without leaning on Robinson’s legs all the time — the Wolverines might get a handle on what has been an elusive passing game to strike a balance on offense.
“It always will open up the passing game,” Robinson said. “We just have to keep doing it every week.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
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