By Michael Spath
The final rushing attempt of the 2016 season belonged to Chris Evans – a 30-yard touchdown run against Florida State that gave Michigan a 30-27 lead in the Orange Bowl – and it would be no surprise if the first carry against Florida in the 2017 opener went to the sophomore tailback.
Despite the presence of senior Ty Isaac and junior Karan Higdon, who combined for 842 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season, Evans enters the new campaign as the clear-cut No. 1 starter, thanks in part to a strong finish as a true freshman last fall.
Evans’ early career arc had his recalling those of Butch Woolfolk and Tshimanga Biakabutuka before him, but as we continue our Michigan Football Doppleganger series, it was a comparison to Ricky Powers that stood out above the rest, all the way down to the number he wore – the same No. 12 that Evans sports today.
Powers ran a little more upright than Evans and with more force but the Akron, Ohio, native was similarly built at 6-0, 205 pounds his rookie year to the 5-11, 200-pound Evans. Evans is said to be about 10 pounds heavier as he prepares for his sophomore season, and fans are eager to see him run with greater oomph behind each stride.
That’s not to say Evans didn’t run with purpose as a freshman. Watch his highlights and you see a tailback that was comfortable between the tackles, willing to dip back into the middle of the field instead of fleeing outside to the sidelines like many young ball carriers are prone to do.
But Evans relied more on the slip-and-slide maneuver for avoiding tacklers, deking them into loose-grip grasps for jerseys. His quick feet, burst and acceleration call to mind the total package that was Ricky Powers in his freshman season back in 1990, when he overtook Jon Vaughn as Michigan’s top rusher by year’s end.
Powers led Michigan in rushing output in three of the final four games, finishing with 100 yards in each of the four contests as he seized the mantle from Vaughn and forecasted his status as the next great U-M back.
Evans led Michigan in rushing output in two of the final four games last season, including the Orange Bowl and in a tough road loss at Iowa. In the two games, he averaged 6.3 yards per carry while his teammates combined to average 2.1 yards per attempt.
Powers started 11 of 12 games for the Maize and Blue as a sophomore in 1991 and rushed for 1,197 yards – at the time, the most ever recorded by a true sophomore to wear the winged helmet (it is now third behind Denard Robinson and Tyrone Wheatley).
Michigan fans are hopeful Evans will follow in Powers’ footsteps, becoming the program’s first 1,000-yard running back since Fitz Toussaint in 2011.