Michigan running back Chris Evans discusses what he's learned from Karan Higdon, including taking what the defense gives you. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Atlanta — Chris Evans played a supporting role to lead running back Karan Higdon, but he is now preparing for a chance to star for Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
When Higdon announced last week he will sit out the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, that meant Evans would likely take on a bigger role with assists from Tru Wilson and freshman Christian Turner, who has, from all accounts, had strong bowl practices. Hassan Haskins also is in the mix.
Michigan will face Florida Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Wolverines are 10-2 and hoping to snap a two-game bowl losing streak. They are 4-0 against Florida.
With Higdon’s departure goes the bulk of Michigan’s running game. He rushed for 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns on 224 carries. Evans has run for 403 yards and four touchdowns on 74 carries.
Florida has allowed an average of 169.7 yards rushing per game, which ranks 73rd nationally and 11th in the Southeastern Conference. Michigan defeated Florida, 33-17, in the 2017 season opener when Evans rushed for 78 yards on 22 carries.
Evans, a junior, said Wednesday he’s not focused on being “the man” now that Higdon is gone.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Evans said. “I’m saying we’re going into this game with the focus on winning. I’m not even really thinking about that. I’m thinking about attacking what I can attack, all the opportunities I get take them full head-on.”
Wilson has 59 carries for 355 yards and a touchdown. Turner has played in two games and has rushed for 63 yards on 13 carries.
“He’s had really great weeks of preparation,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of Turner. “He’ll see time in this game. Pretty neat. From Atlanta, Buford High School. He’s stepping in nicely. Feel like he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Left tackle Jon Runyan spoke highly of Turner’s play in recent weeks.
“He’s been tearing it up all Christmas camp,” Runyan said.
Evans said Higdon gave him some parting words, telling him to lead the running backs room and let the younger backs come to him if they need help.
Turner, according to Evans, has grown considerably as a running back.
“Adapting,” Evans said when asked what Turner has done well. “He came in kind of a high school-type running back. The feel especially for open space and the speed, he’s adapting. He’s adapted really well of being more patient and trying to find holes and hit them.”
Evans said he is not going to change how he leads now that Higdon, a team co-captain, is gone and he has been thrust into the lead role at running back.
Evans said he has been a leader by example since he arrived at Michigan and will offer critiques of the running backs if that’s what they require. In three seasons, Evans has rushed for 1,702 yards on 297 carries and has 14 rushing touchdowns. He also has caught 39 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns during his career.
“I don’t feel like I’ve got to do something outside of what I normally do,” Evans said.
What he is trying to do that’s a bit outside his normal approach is follow Higdon’s lead in terms of getting those hard yards. It’s something he picked up from watching Higdon and talking to him.
“One thing he told me, once you get a lot of carries, you’ve got to take it more vertical,” Evans said. “When I get the ball, I try to do what I can with it because I’m thinking about the big picture. He said, ‘Man, if there’s only three in there, get three. Don’t be trying to look for something else and then get tackled in the backfield.’ That’s something I’m trying to implement in my game from him and something he’s been talking to me about.”
By big picture, of course, Evans means the potential for a big run. Running backs often want to break the big one, but sometimes it’s about patience and getting those hard three or four yards before that hole opens.
“If there’s a hole, and there’s only two yards in there, Karan is the type who will get in there and get two yards,” Evans said. “I’m trying to look to bounce it outside or do something like that. Just be able to know, see two, get two. Just cloud of dust and live to fight another down.
“I’m implementing it now. Especially with (Higdon) gone, I’ve got to bring that sense of him into the game, as well, because he was getting those hard, dirty yards for us. That’s something I’ve got to be able to do.”
Michigan vs. Florida
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Records: Michigan 10-2, Florida 9-3
Line: Michigan by 6