ATLANTA — Michigan probably will need more than one running back to replace Karan Higdon in Saturday’s Peach Bowl against Florida.
The leadership void left by Higdon’s exit may be even more difficult to fill.
“Karan was our guy, our offensive leader, and we all kind of followed him,” quarterback Shea Patterson said Thursday of Higdon, the team’s leading rusher and offensive captain.
Higdon is one of No. 8 Michigan’s four draft-eligible players who chose to skip the Peach Bowl to begin preparations for the NFL draft. No players for No. 10 Florida have said they are bypassing the bowl game.
Michigan senior right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty and two juniors, defensive end Rashan Gary and linebacker Devin Bush, also are missing the game.
“It was definitely fun, a big honor to play with those guys,” Patterson said. “… We’re just focused on ourselves right now, and I think with our mindset, that we’re all we’ve got, we’re all we need. I don’t think there’s any other way to go about that.”
The good news for the Wolverines last week was Patterson’s confirmation that he’ll be back in 2019 for his senior season.
“I don’t know if it was a decision,” Patterson said. “I think it was just an announcement.”
Patterson, the Mississippi transfer, said he wants to enjoy another season at Michigan.
“I definitely just got a taste of it this year with my teammates and my coaches, and I couldn’t have been more happy to come back for one more,” he said.
The NFL decisions by the four Michigan players made the bowl game a 2019 audition for their replacements. Depth chart adjustments were necessary for Michigan (10-2).
“It’s already kind of created that look-ahead aspect, where the guys that maybe wouldn’t have got as much opportunity in the game are all excited,” said senior defensive lineman Chase Winovich.
Chris Evans, a junior, may lead Michigan’s running back committee that also is expected to include Tru Wilson and Christian Turner.
Higdon was the clear leader with 1,178 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Evans, second on the team with 403 yards and four touchdowns, now feels more responsibility as the team’s most experienced running back.
Evans said Higdon left with some parting words of advice.
“Yeah, just make sure that I lead the room and just do what I do and let everything come to me and if I need anything to let him know,” Evans said Wednesday.
One year after finishing 4-7 and out of the bowl picture, Florida (9-3) is trying to cap a season of dramatic improvement. The lure of again having a bowl trip to enjoy may have helped players push back any NFL decisions.
Florida running back Jordan Scarlett, a fourth-year junior, said Thursday he put off any NFL thoughts until after the bowl game.
“I haven’t been focused on that,” Scarlett said. “I was focusing on the season. … Probably after this game I’ll make decisions. Sit down, talk with my parents and stuff like that.”
Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson announced in November he would bypass his senior season to enter the draft. But he wasn’t about to miss the bowl game.
“Right now, I’m not thinking much about the draft or the NFL,” Gardner-Johnson said Thursday. “I’m thinking about winning this game. My teammates made it easier for me all week, just being around them, practicing with them, just soaking in the moment. Because like I said, the NFL ain’t going to be there for long, so while I’m here I’m just going to enjoy everything I can. Play hard, practice hard, and just enjoy the festivities we’ve got here.”