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Published: Sunday, 10/18/2009

Promising freshman makes most of chance

BLADE STAFF
Michigan's defense swarms Justin Wilson. The Hornets did not get a first down until their sixth drive. Michigan's defense swarms Justin Wilson. The Hornets did not get a first down until their sixth drive.
TONY DING / AP Enlarge

ANN ARBOR - Knowing when or if to redshirt a freshman can be a complicated decision for a coaching staff, and until yesterday, it was beginning to appear that University of Michigan's coaches made a mistake by not keeping Vincent Smith's freshman eligibility intact.

But without the services of injured seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, Smith received a chance to play significantly for the first time this year. And the native of Pahokee, Fla., delivered on his appreciable preseason hype, rushing for 166 yards and a touchdown in the Wolverines' 63-6 thrashing of Delaware State in front of 106,304 at the Big House.

Prior to yesterday, Smith had 35 yards on nine carries, none of which were in significant moments of a game. Still, Smith said the thought of burning his rookie season has not been a concern.

"I wasn't thinking about it that much because I was trying to help the team out as much as possible," he said.

Michael Shaw started yesterday's game but had just 11 carries to Smith's 17. Minor (ankle) dressed and was a late scratch, according to coach Rich Rodriguez. Brown is still reeling from a concussion he suffered on the Tuesday before the Iowa game.

Smith's six-yard scamper in the first quarter extended UM's lead to 14-0. He did more dashing and cutting than bulldozing, but don't let his style and small frame - 5-foot-6, 168 pounds - deceive you.

"He's stronger than he looks. You ain't seen him with his shirt off," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "He's cut up."

Rodriguez discredits the notion by some coaches that good teams need two running backs because "I think you need three or four."

The Wolverines may have six, with Shaw (73 yards, one touchdown) Kevin Grady (73 yards, one touchdown), and Michael Cox (82 yards, two touchdowns) all working into the mix yesterday. Grady, a fullback, lived vicariously through his former self, carrying the ball eight times.

"It's like getting on a bike, you don't forget how to do it," the former tailback said.

ROBINSON RECOVERS: After throwing an interception to end last week's loss to Iowa, Robinson said he refocused with the help of some supportive teammates. His two throwing touchdown passes - to Kelvin Grady and Martell Webb - were the first of Robinson's career. He added a rushing score, his fifth of the season.

"I feel every day coach is helping me get better, my teammates are helping me get better," Robinson said.

In his first public comments since the Iowa game, Robinson said he understood why some people questioned Rodriguez's choice to bench Forcier in favor of himself with two drives remaining. But he supported Rodriguez.

"If you're a player, you want to be in the game," he said.

MEALER IN THE MIX: Elliott Mealer saw significant action for the first time this year, playing most of the second half at left guard. Mealer, a redshirt freshman from Wauseon, is mostly used on special teams and played sparingly on the line against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan.

"I got a little more rhythm, we got some flow with the guys, and overall I just got some experience," Mealer said. "Just like [offensive line] coach [Greg] Frey was telling me after the game, I made some mistakes, but that comes from experience. You can't simulate that."

Mealer said he viewed the recent ESPN E:60 feature detailing the car crash that killed his father and girlfriend while alone in Rodriguez' office.

"It was hard watching it, but it was good," Mealer said. "My family and myself, we did it for other people to watch. We've heard there's been great response."

-Ryan Autullo



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