ANN ARBOR — The addition of Shea Patterson and Chase Winovich’s decision to spurn the NFL for one more season at Michigan are oft-discussed topics when analyzing the confluence of events leading to the Wolverines’ No. 5 ranking and even loftier possibilities.
It’s not surprising. Patterson, of course, is the quarterback, football’s glamour position, and the missing link since Jim Harbaugh sauntered into Ann Arbor a few years ago. Winovich, he of flowing blond locks, is a charismatic personality who also happens to be one of the best defensive players in the country.
But what about Karan Higdon? The 5-foot-10, 202-pound senior from Sarasota, Fla., was elected a captain by his teammates and morphed into one of the most reliable running backs in the country.
Higdon is the nation’s 16th-leading rusher with 831 yards and six touchdowns, rushing for 118.7 yards per game — and he even missed one Saturday. Higdon has surpassed the 100-yard mark in every game this season except the season opener at Notre Dame, when he finished with 72 yards and one touchdown.
In Big Ten games, Higdon is averaging 120.6 yards, making mincemeat out of the conference’s defenses. He totaled 144 yards on a career-high 33 carries against Michigan State’s top-ranked run defense, putting 14th-ranked Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) on alert.
“Karan is one of the hardest runners I’ve ever seen for his size,” junior left tackle Jon Runyan, Jr., said. “Running over people, breaking tackles, never going down, that’s something that fires you up as an offensive lineman. It makes you want to block a little harder because you never know when he’ll be able to spring one for a long run.”
Higdon ranks in the top 10 nationally with six carries of 30 or more yards and four of 40 or more yards. He credits his increased durability this season and a wave of big gains to 15 pounds of muscle that were added during the off-season. The extra weight doesn’t just allow him to carry the football 30 times in a game, it also equipped Higdon, who already possesses great vision, with more power, speed, and elusiveness.
“I’m just being more patient, being a bigger playmaker,” said Higdon, who’s well on his way to becoming UM’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. “Sometimes when something’s crowded, I’m finding that little hole to get through [and] just trusting everything.”
A third-quarter fumble in the Outback Bowl is something Higdon won’t forget. The turnover sparked an improbable South Carolina rally and may have kept Higdon from rushing for 1,000 yards, a threshold that he admits kept him from entering the NFL draft.
An irrelevant Outback Bowl loss was Michigan’s gain.
“Karan deserves a lot of credit,” Harbaugh said. “He’s gotten tough yards and yards after contact, yards more than what the play is blocked for. Karan has also shown a real penchant for the big play. He can break out of a pile of players as good as anybody. Knowing that’s always a possibility, that’s a huge factor in staying with the run like we do.”
Maturity might be Higdon’s most dominant trait. He earned his UM degree in three years and is a doting father to his 3-year-old daughter, Kiyah. Higdon hosts a football camp in Florida for underprivileged high school players and life after football, despite an inevitable NFL career, is a constant thought.
“He’s a very mature guy,” Harbaugh said. “He’s very goal-oriented, he understands the benefit of hard work. He’s been a very good example for the entire team as a leader, and he has played tough in practices and in games, which has also has been something other people have rallied around.”
Foresight and wisdom prevented Higdon from second-guessing his decision to return to Michigan. His verdict unveiled another truism for Harbaugh-coached teams. Yes, they flourish with an efficient quarterback. But Harbaugh wins with running backs, too, namely Toby Gerhart at Stanford and Frank Gore with the 49ers.
“Credit the guys in front of me,” Higdon said. “Just trusting the holes that they’re opening up and just following my talent, trusting the play-calling and just doing my job.”
Michigan could potentially have seven games remaining in its season. The Wolverines (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) know for sure that two are in the Big House, and Higdon is going to savor the moments. A broken tackle here or a fumble there could have resulted in a vastly different 2018 season for Michigan.
It definitely altered Higdon’s future. You’ll hear no pessimism and sense no negativity.
Said Higdon: “I’ve made it a right decision.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.