Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh said all the running backs are "pushing each other" and said "it's fun to watch" the competition. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor – Michigan running back Christian Turner learned during his high school football career what he calls the “R Factor,” and it has served him well.
His coach at Buford High in Georgia explained to Turner there are things that will happen to him he can’t control. It becomes about how you React and how you Respond – the R Factor. Now at Michigan, maybe there’s another meaning – running back Rotation and how he responds to that.
As the Wolverines prepare for an important game Saturday against Iowa, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made clear earlier this week he likes the running-back-by-committee approach, giving the top three backs 20 plays apiece, and perhaps a fourth back works in there, as well. This bodes well for Turner, who learned in high school about being patient and working as part of a running back rotation.
While freshman back Zach Charbonnet has garnered plenty of headlines and leads the team with 218 rushing yards on 48 carries and three touchdowns, he has been limited the last two games. That has meant more playing time for Turner, who was starting to turn heads during bowl practice last season but was slowed during spring practice with nagging injuries.
Turner had 11 carries for 48 yards in the 52-0 rout of Rutgers last Saturday and scored his first career touchdown on a 7-yard run early in the second half.
“It was cool,” Turner said this week. “It took some pressure off. I finally got to the end zone and now I just want to get comfortable with it, get comfortable scoring.”
And there’s another R-word approach – thinking Rationally about his role as a running back. Turner certainly enjoyed getting that first touchdown, but he’s more about acting like he’s been there before.
“I don’t want to glorify that too much,” Turner said. “Hopefully I get to the end zone again. I don’t want to make that some spectacular moment that I’m going to think about for the rest of my life.”
Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo preview the Michigan State-Ohio State and Michigan-Iowa games on this week's "The Detroit News' College Football Show." The Detroit News
In high school, Turner learned to share playing time with his teammates.
“That definitely helped,” Turner said of his Buford High days. “In high school, I was never just the main back. I’ve always rotated. It really allows you to become an unselfish player. It brings in that friendly competition aspect of it. When I got here, it wasn’t really any different. There’s a bunch of great backs in this room that have the ability to be a starter.”
That eased his transition to Michigan and certainly has played a role this year as he gets carries as part of a crowded position group. Hassan Haskins had nine carries for 45 yards last week against Rutgers and now Tru Wilson, who missed two games after breaking his hand, is back and will factor into the rotation, along with Charbonnet and Turner.
The backs work as a group and no one seems to be demanding more playing time or wondering why another back has had more carries.
“That’s just part of being an unselfish back,” Turner said. “You’ve got to know that you’re not out there alone. There’s other dudes out there with the same skill set as you that can get things done. If we’re winning games, you can’t really complain.”
Turner redshirted last season playing behind Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Wilson. But coaches and teammates were buzzing about him during bowl practices. Harbaugh said in the spring that the coaches would get excited about Turner, and then something would happen physically to set him back. That happened several times.
But Turner has never been dejected. Even last season, he chose to understand why he wasn’t playing much and build from there. He said he wasn’t going to “chill out” and wait. He worked at his craft and studied.
“I wasn’t going to be complacent,” he said.
And with a loaded running back room now, there’s no time to be complacent.
“I think it helps out a lot, that friendly competition in practice,” Turner said. “Everybody trying to make each other better, trying to push each other to run harder. You see guys like Zach running hard in practice, so you’re like, ‘OK, now let me go match that tempo. Let me speed it up.’ It creates a domino effect with the backs. If one person’s speeding it up, one person’s running harder in practice, that brings more energy to the running back group.”
Iowa at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: Fox/950 AM
Records: No. 14 Iowa 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten; No. 19 Michigan 3-1, 1-1
Line: Michigan by 3