Angelique Chengelis and John Niyo discuss Michigan's win over Minnesota. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
When Karan Higdon learned he had reached 200 yards rushing for a second time this season, he was nearly overcome by the emotions.
Higdon rushed for 200 and Chris Evans for 191 in Michigan’s 33-10 victory over Minnesota on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. Higdon also rushed for 200 yards at Indiana in mid-October, becoming the first Michigan back to gain 200 yards in a game since Mike Hart in 2007.
“I almost wanted to cry because I was so excited and so happy to share that moment with my boys,” Higdon said after the victory over Minnesota that pushed the Wolverines to 7-2 overall, 4-2 Big Ten. “It’s all of us doing it.
“I didn’t get there by myself.”
For the second straight game, Michigan had two backs gain 100 yards or more. Against Rutgers, Higdon had 158 and Ty Isaac 109. It’s the first time Michigan has had multiple backs with 100-yard rushing games in consecutive weeks since 1975.
This is not Michigan going old-school, but the offensive line is a better run-blocking unit and this game featured the debut of Brandon Peters as the starting quarterback. He threw for a miniscule 56 yards and it certainly would have been ideal for him to get a more-involved pass game, but the Wolverines only ran 50 plays. Peters was 8-of-13 and had a touchdown but took three sacks.
Of those 50 plays, there were big chunk gains. The Wolverines had the ball for 27 minutes, five fewer than the Gophers. Higdon and Evans provided some big gains, as Higdon had runs of 47 and 77 yards, while Evans had runs of 60 and 67 yards.
Peters threw for a touchdown in each of the last two games, including a 20-yarder to tight end Sean McKeon against the Golden Gophers But the Wolverines have been about fulfilling its identity as a running, grind-it-out team that fullback Khalid Hill described last week.
Michigan’s run game offered results at Indiana on Oct. 14 with 271 yards and three touchdowns. At Penn State the following week, the run game never got going and finished with 103 yards, but the last two games against lesser defenses, Rutgers and Minnesota, the Wolverines’ run game has founds traction. They gained 334 against Rutgers and then 371 against Minnesota.
Higdon has been the key to the increased run production, as has the offensive line in recent weeks. Higdon ranks 13th nationally in rush per carry (6.76), 37th in rushing yards per game (89.3) and 27th in total rushing touchdowns with 10.
This season, Higdon has 804 rushing yards and could be the first Michigan 1,000-yard rusher since Fitz Toussaint in 2011.
“The guys up front, that was a game for the ages if you’re an offensive lineman,” Harbaugh said. “It was quite the performance rushing the football.”
He said his father, Jack Harbaugh, asked him in the last month why they weren’t running more counter plays.
“So we started to run the counter more. Indiana, we got the counter going in that game,” Harbaugh said. “Power and counter and isolation and toss were working good (against Minnesota). Better and better.”
The running game is a point of pride for the O-line, which has taken it share of heat and blame for a lukewarm offense this year.
“We’ve been really focusing on the run game and knew we were going to have to run the ball to win the game,” senior left tackle Mason Cole said. “We had the backs to do it. We blocked well enough to get them through the line of scrimmage and onto the second level and from there it was all those guys.
“All of our backs run with a lot of heart. They run really hard. When you see them running hard in game, that motivates you to block even harder.
“Each week as a team we’re getting better and better.”
Michigan travels to Maryland this weekend for the first of two road games, including facing Wisconsin, before heading home for the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
Michigan at Maryland
Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.
Records: Michigan 7-2, 4-2 Big Ten; Maryland 4-5, 2-4