Lightning in a Bottle (x 2)?

Submitted by adoddere on August 18th, 2008 at 9:57 AM

A lot of Michigan fans were born to wear maize and blue.  They came home from the hospital in block M socks and winged knitted stocking caps.  They spent Saturdays at grandpa's house, learning how to pump their little arms into the air and sing along after a Michigan touchdown, learning how to belt out creative obsceneties after a Michigan turnover.  Some of us weren't that lucky.  We had to settle for becoming Michigan fans later in life, say for example, when we were looking at educational opportunities and realized a giant towers above all others when it comes to combining education and football, and her name is Michigan.

Those born into it have experienced things I have not.  Indeed, they are the fortunate ones when it comes to the Wolverine rushing attack.  They have seen it all when it comes to Michigan running back styles - Power, elusiveness and extraordinary speed.  Those who happen to be my age have seen running backs I have not - Lytle, Morris, Boles, Wheatley, Biakabatuka, among others.  They've seen real wiggle and real speed, often in the same package.  I have not.

Perhaps until now.  Don't get me wrong, I have been fortunate enough to witness some incredible Michigan RB's.  Chris Howard, Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry and Mike Hart have each wowed me at some point or another.  All ran with great determination and power, punishing defenders and eeking out the tough yards.  Perry obviously possessed much better than average elusiveness and first step explosiveness.  As for Hart, about the only thing I can say other that "wow" is, can you imagine if he had take-it-to-the-house, morgan-trent-you speed?  

Which leads me to my point.  It seems that, based upon on the Fall practice reports, we johnny-come-latelys may finally get an opportunity to see what it looks like when a winged-helmet half back gets a step on the corner and runs away from everyone.  And given the big play potential of the spread coupled with the sheer numbers of guys who seem capable of going the distance on the roster, we may get to see it repeatedly, and from different ball carriers.

I know we are all terrified at some level given the youth of this team, the entirely new scheme, and the uncertainty at QB.  But at the same time, whether we admit it or not, I'm guessing we are equally excited at the possibility that is this stable of running backs.  Granted, if there's one thing I've learned over the past decade, it's that practice reports and $5 will get you a grande latte at the local Starbucks.  They don't necessarily translate to anything come game day.  But one thing seems to be certain.  We have 3 or 4 guys playing RB that, if given a step into space, are capable of changing a game in seconds. 

In the end, it's that fact that helps me sleep at night.



August 18th, 2008 at 11:58 AM ^

The only every down RB that I really remember that was a real threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball was Wheatley. (I've been living and dying with Michigan football since mid 70's, but my real memories of individual players beyond AC start in the early / mid 80's.) He was incredibly fast and still could put a shoulder in someone. He was a threat to get around the corner as well as breaking through the line, splitting the LBs and out running the DBs on a counter (just ask Washington).

Biakabutuka was special also, but he didn't get that much time in the spot light. He got a few carries as a freshman in 1993, and did well after Wheatley got hurt in 1994. But he was only a featured back in 1995. And ask anyone who was in Ann Arbor on November 25, 1995 who the best back in the Big Ten was that year, and the Heisman winner would have come up a distant second. Ace of Sports did a nice spot on him a few weeks back.…

The other backs you mentioned were very good backs, particularly Morris, but Wheatley and Tshimanga were the best.


August 18th, 2008 at 12:29 PM ^

I can remember Woolfolk being a very good back, but I can't tell you much about what made him special.

Boles was very fast, and I had forgotten how well he performed in 1988 until I checked him on Wikipedia ( I recalled his injury and that he was behind Hoard at the end of 1989 and Jon Vaughn and Ricky Powers for all of 1990.

Blue Durham

August 18th, 2008 at 12:49 PM ^

Woolfolk was super fast and he hit the hole quickly. Wasn't real shifty and didn't break too many tackles, though. Made guys miss just by outrunning them.

Ditto with Tony Boles. Strange, the thing I remember most about him was his speed and skinny legs. Chicken legs really, but damn he could move them legs fast.


August 18th, 2008 at 2:04 PM ^

A little obscure, but he's another guy where I could never understand why he didn't get the ball more, but then again we were Tailback U in those days.


August 18th, 2008 at 3:09 PM ^

Vaughn was incredible for two games in 1990. He lit up ND and UCLA for close to a combined 500 yards as I remember (something like 200 versus ND and close to 300 against UCLA). I seem to remember that he was replaced by Ricky Powers around mid season for a few fumbles (I may be jumbling this memory with what led to the transition from Powers to Wheatley the next season).

Powers was highly touted coming out of Ohio and was a solid RB. Powers got replaced in 1991 by Wheatley. Other than that Wheatley was a god walking among men, I think that Powers had a few fumbles that led to his time on the bench. My most vivid Powers memory was the end of the 1991 ND game where Mo just kept feeding him the ball and ND could do nothing about it. I think our final drive to run out the clock lasted something like 6 minutes.


August 19th, 2008 at 11:19 AM ^

Did Biakabutuka have the same type of speed as Wheatley? I don't recall seeing him in a situation where he really outran an opponent. I'm not putting him in the same speed category as Hart, but Biakabutuka's strengths seemed to be an ability to hit the hole quickly, cut very well, and break arm tackles, not the long TD threat.

Blue Durham

August 19th, 2008 at 11:45 AM ^

Did Biakabutuka have the same type of speed as Wheatley?  Not in my opinion.  For me, I group the Michigan backs as follows:

  1. sprinters/speedsters  -  This would be Wheatley, Boles and Woolfolk.  Jon Vaughn, and Gordon Bell (from '73-75,more of a "scat back" but still very fast).
  2. Very small, lost in the crowd type backs.  Not real fast, but very good and makes guys miss.  Jamie Morris and Mike Hart
  3. Power backs with some speed - Most Michigan backs and include Larry Ricks, Stan Edwards, Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas, and Biakabatuka. 
  4. Power back with no speed - Rob Lytle


Blue Durham

August 19th, 2008 at 12:23 PM ^

I do not have a lot of recollection of David Underwood (RB from '01-'04).  He just didn't get a lot of carries:

As a junior, sub. for Chris Perry in '03:  52-270, 5.2 avg., 2 TD's, long of 35

As a sr, sub for Mike Hart in '04: 29-129, 4.4 avg., 2 TD, long of 46

He was stuck behind a couple of prettty good backs, but I remember liking him and him having pretty damn good speed.  As I recall (and this is with all of 1 brain cell), his size and style was a lot like Jon Vaughn.  So based on that little of info, I would tentatively put him in the sprinters category.


August 19th, 2008 at 12:28 PM ^

Where is Category 5? For backs with the key distinction of having little to no discernable running ability because every time they touch the ball, it winds up on the turf?

And can a tall rocket-armed QB get put into the category?

Blue Durham

August 19th, 2008 at 12:47 PM ^

Funny you should mention that.  I did a little more digging and David Underwood did have very good speed for a running back with "4.5 or better" speed in the 40.  If Underwood had better than 4.5 speed, he was a sprinter type. 

But, his carries were kept low due to a "lack of consistency" and not being "reliable."  Apparently he had some opportunities where he "didn't protect the football."

And that is really very interesting.  A promising player (Lemming rated him the 69th best player in the country as a recruit).  A fast, returning senior who had by far the most carries for a RB going into the '04 season.  But has a reputation for not protecting the ball... (tribute to elipses man) and loses the competition for starting RB to a TRUE FRESHMAN, who was a bit slower and, eventually established a reputation for never fumbling the ball.

Maybe what happened to Underwood had an effect on that freshman RB, Mike Hart?

chitownblue (not verified)

August 19th, 2008 at 12:54 PM ^

Actually. Underwood WAS the starting tailback going into 2004. IIRC, he was injured early in the Notre Dame game that year (the second game). He had 24 carries the first game, got hurt, and was replaced, mainly, by Jerome Jackson, who was awful (2 yards a carry). Hart only had 5 carries in the first two games. If I recall, some combination of Jackson and Rembert played the majority of the first half in game 3, vs. San Diego State, and then ceded way to Hart, who ran for 124 yards, then didn't look back.

So Hart, really, was the third option that year. It's funny - going into the season, we planned on Guitierrez at QB and Underwood at RB.