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After nearly reaching 1000 yards last season, Michigan fans thought they knew exactly what they were getting when senior running back Karan Higdon decided to stay in Ann Arbor one more year.
Yes, Higdon was the clear number one back, but he was supposed to be just one part of a diverse running game featuring Chris Evans’s speed, the goal-line and third and fourth and short pounding of Ben Mason and even the pass-blocking of walk-on Tru Wilson.
But on Saturday, with Evans injured, Higdon’s number got called a career-high 30 times, and he delivered, racking up 115 yards and two critical touchdowns in the comeback win over Northwestern.
“I was just doing my job,” Higdon said during media availability Monday. “You never know (about number of carries) going in. But you’ve got to go when you’re name’s called. That’s one of the biggest things that was emphasized when I came in, being a guy that’s reliable and consistent, someone the coaches can depend on. That’s what everybody works towards, and knowing that I have that trust is great.”
When the Wolverines got down, 17-0, Higdon said the team’s consistency improved, leading to the comeback.
“I think just getting after it each and every play,” Higdon said about the difference in the second half. “Just making sure we came out on the next play with a full head of steam. I think it shows how determined we are to keep fighting each and every quarter.”
According to Higdon there was a host of people on the sideline and in the locker room at half verbally keeping the spirits of the Michigan players up.
“Just keep going.”
“Guys like myself, the other three captains, Shea (Patterson), a lot of guys on the defense, coaches, were saying, ‘Keep going,'” Higdon said. “‘It’s a four-quarter game. We have another half, and this is the time to make a difference.’ And we did that,”
Teams tend to abandon the run-game when they’re down, but not Michigan on Saturday. Coach Jim Harbaugh called Higdon’s number 21 times in the second half, much of it when the Wolverines trailed.
“He’s really got the ability to run all the assortment of runs,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “He’s not in a category where he can only run inside runs or only run outside runs. He can do both, and he can also pass-protect. I have a high level of trust with Karan in every phase including ball security. The biggest improvement I’ve seen from Karan is the extra yards, the yards after contact he’s gaining. If a play’s blocked for two yards, he’s gaining four and five. A thing that he’s continuing to build on is his ability to catch the ball. He’s done that and been able to turn a four-yard gain into a seven or eight or nine-yard gain, making the first defender miss and bleed out more yardage.”
Redshirt sophomore tight end Nick Eubanks has gotten a front-row seat to Higdon’s evolution into a workhorse back:
“He’s a very valuable player in our backfield,” Eubanks said. “He always manages to get the extra yardage. I’m happy to have a dude back there like that.”
Higdon’s resiliency on Saturday had some comparing his performance to Chris Perry’s 51-carry game against Michigan State in 2003.
“50 carries? Shoot,” Higdon said. “I’d do it though. I wouldn’t back down from it. I’ll take it. Whatever it takes to get the job done, as long as we walk out winners.”
Higdon’s next shot at 50 carries and Michigan’s next shot to walk out winners comes on Saturday at noon against Maryland.