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Toussaint takes lead in RB derby

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He took the misdirection pitch four yards behind the line of scrimmage, with almost all of the Purdue defense having shifted to the right side, following quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson.

It left Fitzgerald Toussaint almost all by himself on the left with room to run. Left tackle Taylor Lewan crushed one of the Purdue players remaining on that side and then Toussaint cut up the middle. No Boilermaker was coming close to catching him.

"I just saw daylight," Toussaint said.

He went untouched -- if he was touched, it was by a gloved-up fingernail and he has no idea whether anyone even flicked him at all -- for a 59-yard touchdown in , part of a career day for the redshirt sophomore running back in a 36-14 rout of Purdue.

Toussaint might have given No. 17 Michigan an answer at running back. Maybe.

"I don't know," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "We'll see."

One of Michigan's laments this season has been the lack of a consistent running game from its backs, and, moreover, the lack of a potential lead running back.

Toussaint made a convincing case. He had a career-high 170 yards, the most gained by a Michigan running back since Carlos Brown had 189 against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 19, 2009. It was the most by a Wolverines back against a Big Ten opponent since Michael Hart's 195 yards against Minnesota on Sept. 30, 2006.

Toussaint started and ended October the same way -- with a 100-yard game. He picked up 108 yards in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota at Michigan Stadium. He closed the month with the game of his career.

Yet he's not sure whether he should be Michigan's lead back.

"I still feel like we have to go out there every Tuesday and compete," Toussaint said. "Compete throughout the whole week, the running backs."

The competition, though, is starting to narrow. Toussaint almost quadrupled the amount of carries the next running back received (Vincent Smith with six, Michael Shaw with five) and was able to break outside of the tackles often, giving him more space to run.

Toussaint is a hard runner with a dash of speed. He also receives help from Robinson, who seems to have multiple defenders following him wherever he goes, week in, week out. It's part of why the package in which Toussaint had his game-breaking run is so effective.

Robinson, who said running backs coach Fred Jackson has told him "one fake is worth two blocks," sold his part of the play hard. It let Gardner pitch it to Toussaint.

"The long one, when he cut it back, I was really impressed," senior right tackle Mark Huyge said. "He found the opening and got blocks downfield."

The offensive line and Toussaint took care of everything else.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.