Watch Michigan QBs throw at Peach Bowl practice in Atlanta on Dec. 26, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
ATLANTA — Michigan football‘s running back corps has thinned out, but opportunity lives.
The Wolverines will play in the Peach Bowl vs. Florida on Saturday without leading rusher Karan Higdon, who is sitting out to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft. Earlier this month, the program booted reserve running back O’Maury Samuels off the team after an arrest.
So, who’s left?
Michigan has seasoned junior Chris Evans, who rushed for 403 yards and four touchdowns this season despite missing three games with a hamstring injury. Evans rushed for 685 yards last season and 614 as a true freshman in 2016.
He’s experienced and trusted. Michigan also trusts junior Tru Wilson. But at No. 3?
Freshman Christian Turner, you’re up.
“(Turner) has had really, really great weeks of preparation now,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week. “So during the bowl game, he’ll see time in this game. It’s pretty neat. He’s from Atlanta, from Buford High School.
“He’s stepping in nicely.”
Turner was the freshman most singled out this summer by Higdon as a player to watch moving forward. Michigan’s senior captain told reporters during Big Ten media days in July that Turner’s running style and work ethic reminded him of himself at a younger age.
Like Higdon, Turner was a downhill, one-cut back in high school who generally finished runs by falling forward after contact. He should fit well in assistant coach Ed Warinner’s zone running system.
Playing in high school and playing against a Southeastern Conference squad in the Peach Bowl is different.
Turner won’t likely be asked to carry the load, but he’ll have a role to play. And, along with fellow freshman Hassan Haskins, he has used December as an opportunity to put himself in position for time next year — as Evans, Wilson, Turner and possibly Haskins (who has also played linebacker this year) will battle with incoming true freshman Zach Charbonnet starting in January.
“(Turner) came in as a high school-type running back, but that feel for open space with speed has really adapted (for him),” Evans said. “He’s being more patient, finding holes and hitting them.”
Evans suddenly finds himself as the old man of the group.
He said it felt like just yesterday he was wrapping up his freshman season by running for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl. Plenty has changed since then, but the Indianapolis native now has an opportunity to be the man in this backfield.
Evans mostly shared time with Higdon throughout portions of 2016 and 2017, but ultimately fell to No. 2 on the depth chart. He’s eager to show what he has in the Peach Bowl.
“We’re going into this game with the focus on winning, I’m not thinking about (anything else), just attacking when I attack,” Evans said. “Any opportunity I get, just take them head on. It all goes by fast. We’ve got to just take this in and keep pushing.
“The way I’ve been leading since I’ve been here has been by example. Now, it’s giving the young guys little critiques about their work. Nothing that I don’t normally do.”
Before he left, Higdon told Evans to make sure he became the unquestioned leader of the running back room moving forward for both the bowl game and beyond.
Evans says he has had no issues with that.
But his sole focus is on winning Michigan’s 11th game in 2018.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.