The answer is easier said than done, considering Green leads the Wolverines in rushing with 472 yards on 82 attempts and three touchdowns on the season, before breaking his clavicle late in U-M’s 26-24 loss at Rutgers Saturday. Green, who also averages 78.5 yards per game and 5.7 yards per carry, had two 100-yard rushing games on the season in six starts.
“I'm very confident in the three guys that will be doing most of the work as a running back,” Hoke said. “ I'm highly confident of what they bring and what they can do.”
As Michigan prepares for Penn State this Saturday night for “Under the Lights III,” one of the three backs will have to step up into the feature role. Through six games, Smith is second on the team with 282 yards, Hayes has 101 yards, while Johnson only has three carries for 28 yards in limited action this season.
Smith, who is second on the team with 42 carries this season, seems like the likely favorite to get the start this Saturday versus Penn State. And Hoke believes he could handle the carry load if asked upon.
"I know he carried the ball in high school 40-some times a game against their league rival. I know it's only high school, but it is still a guy carrying it,” Hoke said of Smith. “How many snaps he gets during the course of the week, how we practice and all of those things, I mean, I think he is more than capable of it."
Hayes will most likely continue his role as third down back in pass protection, Hoke says.
"Justice has primarily been a very good third-down back,” Hoke said. “When you get into those situations where from the protection standpoint, I do think that Derrick (Green) and De'Veon (Smith) are getting closer with that standpoint. But Justice gives you something there. I think his ability out of the backfield has been good.” At 6-foot, 211-pounds, Johnson brings a different combination of size and speed to the offense, Hoke says.
“Drake is probably a combination of somewhere with Derrick and Justice as far as when you see his ability and his quickness in the hole,” Hoke says.
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