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Crowded backfield still remains despite solid game from Drake Johnson

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Still buried on the depth chart, Drake Johnson hasn't earned starting minutes just yet.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

ANN ARBOR -- It appeared that the running game would once again struggle against an inferior opponent during Michigan's 34-10 victory over Indiana.

That's until redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson checked in to the game.

After suffering a torn ACL in his first collegiate game as a redshirt freshman last season that also forced him to miss the entire spring, Johnson bounced back in a big way by giving Michigan a huge boost on the ground. He finished the day with 16 carries for 122-yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Although his counterparts weren't as successful, no one is ready to crown Johnson as starting running back just yet. He is still listed behind De'Veon Smith and Justice Hayes on the depth chart headed into this weekend's matchup against Northwestern.

Don't count Johnson out just yet.

"He's (Johnson) always been in the mix," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said during his weekly press conference. "Here's what's happened: You've got a guy who's missed a year of football. You've got a guy who's started a little lower than the other three guys on the depth chart. One of them gets hurt (Derrick Green) and he's getting a lot more reps within our system. I think he's continued to develop and progress.

"They'll compete for it like they always do. I would say De'Veon right now, he may be held back a little bit but he's fine. We'll see what happens."

However, regardless of how well the running backs ran on Saturday, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier says that the offensive line deserves some of the credit as well.

"I think you're talking about two different styles of runner," Nussmeier said. "You've got to look at the big picture, it's an 11-man game. The offensive line did an outstanding job in this game. We've protected better than we've protected all season long. We averaged 5.8 per rush, give those guys some credit, too."

For now, it appears thatJohnson must earn a starter's role. Which makes the backfield a little more crowded headed into Saturday's match-up against Northwestern.