Fitz Toussaint may have been listed as Michigan’s starting running back for Saturday’s game against Alabama, but the team’s leading rusher from a year ago won’t take the field first. Or, at all.
Finally shedding light on a what has been a vague subject, Brady Hoke said Friday that Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark did not make the trip to Dallas for the game against the Tide. The two were suspended for separate incidents, and although admitted back to practice this month, their status for the season opener had been a mystery.
Here’s the statement from Hoke:
“The decision was not easy, but I feel it is in the best interest of this program and for these kids, and those always will be my priorities. We have choices every day, and you have to be accountable to this program, your teammates, your family and the University of Michigan.
“These are our sons. These are real lives, and I think, too often, many people forget that. It’s not always just about football, or a football decision. It’s about teaching life lessons, and if this helps these kids or someone else make a right decision later, then we’ve won. That is, ultimately, what we are here for, to help them grow and mature to become better sons, fathers, husbands and members of society.
“They are good young men who made poor choices, and we will continue to support them as members of our team and family.”
Toussaint was arrested July 21 and hit with a drunk driving charge, but that was eventually reduced to operating a vehicle while visibly impaired, to which he pleaded guilty. Clark was charged around the same time as Toussaint with second-degree home invasion stemming from the alleged theft of a MacBook Air from a student’s dorm room this past June.
The Wolverines already enter Saturday’s game as a two-touchdown underdog. Though boxer Floyd Mayweather has his own reasons to believe Michigan will cover the spread against the Tide, the loss of Toussaint could ultimately spell bad news on that front.
In the midst of reports that he had a physical altercation with one of his Tennessee players during summer camp this year, Butch Jones labeled the speculation “absolutely ridiculous.”
Apparently, his bosses agree with the head coach.
At a board meeting Thursday, UT-Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek stated that he and athletic director Dave Hart had done their “due diligence” in investigating the accusations that Jones and senior offensive lineman Mack Crowder were involved in some type of physical skirmish during practice this past August. The end result of interviews with Jones, coaches and players was the conclusion that there was nothing to the reports and message-board rumors.
“There’s been a lot of rumor and misinformation on social media and message boards about an alleged incident during football practice,” Cheek said according to GoVols247.com‘s Wes Rucker. “It’s not our practice to respond to rumors, but I thought it was important to let you know that we’ve done our due diligence and Dave Hart and I are very confident there was no inappropriate conduct with any players or coaches.”
Shortly after Cheek spoke at the board meeting, Crowder took to Twitter with a series of missives that speaks around the issue.
Michigan played without its leading rusher in Week 5. The Wolverines are hoping there won’t be a repeat in Week 6.
De'Veon Smith sustained a lower-leg injury in the Week 4 win over BYU and didn’t travel with the team for last Saturday’s win over Maryland. Smith has been practicing with his teammates throughout the first few days of this week, and head coach Jim Harbaugh is guardedly optimistic that the running back will be available for what’s turned into a huge Big Ten matchup with Northwestern Saturday in the Big House.
“He’s practicing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’s going to stay good and be ready to play,” Harbaugh said during a radio appearance Thursday morning. “But we’ll (keep) looking at that every day.”
Despite essentially missing a game and a half, Smith currently leads the Wolverines with 331 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He’s added four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown coming out of the backfield the first four games.
Should Smith be unable to go again, the Wolverines have three other backs with at least 100 yards on the ground: Ty Isaac (187, 7.2 yards per carry), Drake Johnson (125, 4.2 ypc) and Derrick Green (100, 3.3 ypc).
In addition to Smith, Harbaugh is hopeful Channing Stribling will be available this weekend as well. The starting cornerback didn’t play against the Cougars because of injury