ATLANTA — Chris Evans chose to play it cool.
Asked Wednesday about the 2019 season, one that is expected to return a bulk of Michigan’s offensive playmakers, including the rising senior at running back, and he pivoted back to the immediate.
Immediate, as in Saturday’s Peach Bowl vs. No. 10 Florida (noon, ESPN).
“I’m going into this game with the focus on winning,” Evans said. “I’m just thinking about attacking what I can attack and all the opportunities that I get, just taking them full on.”
There’s some depth to Evans’ comments, he later explained. The 5-foot-11, 216-pound running back likes to run in space, sometimes sideline-to-sideline to read opposing defenses and pick up as many yards as he can. While he might pick up big yards, he also is prone to being tackled for a loss.
And before Karan Higdon departed to begin preparing for the NFL draft, he offered Evans some advice.
“One thing he told me, you have to start taking the (ball) more vertical,” Evans said. “Try to do what I can with it. Because I’m thinking about the big picture, he said, ‘If there’s only three in there, get three. Don’t be trying to look for something else.’”
Evans took the message to heart. The Indianapolis native posted the least productive season of his collegiate career in 2018, in part because he only played in 10 games, rushing 74 times for 403 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry, more than his sophomore season in 2017, when he struggled to eclipse his freshman-year numbers.
Meanwhile, Higdon bulked up in the offseason and committed himself to improving his output as a senior. He turned 994 yards rushing into 1,178 — even after sitting out a game due to injury — and earned all-Big Ten honors. The preseason talk of Michigan having two “No. 1” running backs quickly came to an end early on.
“If there’s a hole and there’s only two yards in there, Karan’s the type that will get in there and get two yards,” Evans said. “I’m trying to look to bounce it outside and do something like that. Just to be able to know, there’s two — see two, get two — and live to fight another down.”
Michigan views Evans as its No. 1 back heading into 2019, a season that may bring uncertainty at the running back position. Former walk-on Tru Wilson and Christian Turner, who plans to redshirt this year, both return, and the Wolverines welcome in four-star prospect Zach Charbonnet.
But questions still sit with Turner and Charbonnet, both of whom will have little-to-none experience running the football at the collegiate level. Development will have to happen.
With Evans, though, it will be his fourth and final go-around at Michigan. He’s been through this plenty before, and chooses to lead with his play on the field. But the Wolverines will rely on him more than ever, and he knows that.
Which is why he’s doing his best to implement the changes to his game now.
“Especially with (Higdon) gone, I’ve got to bring that sense of him into the game as well,” Evans said. “Because he was getting those hard, dirty yards for us, and that’s something I’ve got to be able to do.”