UM’s Higdon returns with style: ‘I’m back’

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan sophomore running back Karan Higdon was here, but illness and injury forced him out of the conversation.

He was sick and missed spring practice and then had what he called an obstacle he had to overcome that forced him to miss preseason camp. He returned just before the season opener.

“Got through it, and now I’m back,” Higdon said Saturday after Michigan’s 49-10 victory over Penn State.

He scored two of Michigan’s six rushing touchdowns, including a 40-yarder. He had 81 yards on nine carries, sandwiched by De’Veon Smith’s team-best 107 yards and Ty Isaac’s 74. Smith and Isaac each had a touchdown.

Higdon entered the game as the Wolverines’ second back. He had 64 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown through the first three games.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said the decision to get Higdon more involved was based on running back coach Tyrone Wheatley’s “feel” from practice last week.

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“He got Karan in there early and saw some real explosive runs,” Harbaugh said. “I think that’s just something that coach Wheatley had seen and got him in there. He reeled off some impressive runs early. Physical, hitting-the-hole fast, explosive type of runs. Same on the touchdown. That was an exciting run, a very explosive run. I thought he shot out like he was coming out of the starting blocks. Heck of a good run.”

It has taken time for Higdon to shoot out of the blocks and get back into the running back rotation. He said it was difficult not being able to participate.

“It was mentally challenging sitting back and watching the other guys work knowing you want to be out there,” Higdon said. “but having guys like coach Harbaugh and coach Wheatley in your ear constantly standing in your corner and pushing you and motivating you, at the end of the day you trust in God everything’s going to be OK.”

He used the time away to learn and study.

“Focus. Focus on the playbook, focus on what other guys are doing. Learn from them,” Higdon said when asked how he has fought for playing time in a crowded position group. “It’s a competition. If you love to compete this is the place to be.”

Higdon credited his two touchdowns to the offensive line.

“Before the play my O-Line told me to trust them as I always do,” he said of his 40-yard touchdown. “I read their keys and made it happen. It’s exciting to see how their productivity transfers into mine.

“I saw the defender get blocked by one of my O-Linemen. It was awesome. I knew if I made a move and got to the outside I’d get in the end zone. (Amara) Darboh had a great block downfield, so it was awesome to see everyone working together.”

Quarterback Wilton Speight said the game plan was to “slash” Penn State with the run game. Seeing five backs score six touchdowns was exactly what they wanted from their offense.

Higdon’s success was not a surprise to Speight, who praised his natural ability.

“He came in his freshman camp and impressed everybody,” Speight said. “Then he got banged up with injuries. The offseason he got mono, hurt his knee, didn’t do spring ball. So he came into camp, no one had seen him for eight months. He didn’t lose a step. He’s a really natural runner who sees the field well.”