Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
For my money, Isaiah Pead is the best running back in Cincinnati history. Demarco McCleskey and Reggie Taylor have more yards and more touchdowns. But Pead shined brightest on the biggest stage, and was a crucial cog in the Brian Kelly and Butch Jones era. He was gone in 2013, and the running game got better.
It defies logic, but that's exactly what happened. It comes down to George Winn, and his production of one of the best seasons ever by a UC running back. He carried the ball 243 times (5th all time) for 1,334 yards (2nd all Time) with 13 Touchdowns (tied 3rd all time). All of those numbers surpassed Pead's totals from his groundbreaking 2012 campaign. Oh and the running game made a great leap forward behind an offensive line that had three first time starters.
George Winn might simply be the best fit for a running back in the zone blocking scheme that UC had in the Butch Jones era. Winn is a one cut and go running back. He doesn't make defenders miss in the hole, if a scheme is defeated by the defense he didn't make something from nothing. What Winn did best was slowly, and methodically wear down defenses. He was the closest thing to a closer that the Bearcats have had since, arguably, Richard Hall or McKleskey.
What Winn did best, and what running backs have, for the most part failed to do during the Bearcats spread era, is wear on defenses as the game progresses. Winn however was at his best in the third and fourth quarters. 8 of his 13 TD's came in the second half. He ran for 21 first downs in the fourth quarter, more than in any other period. Perhaps my favorite stat of them all is this; in situations where the Bearcats were up my 15 or more points Winn averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Winn didn't just close games out. That doesn't really encompass all that he did this year. It would be more accurate to say that he ground opposing defenses into submission.
Whats interesting about his season looking back on it from the perspective of July was how he changed the narrative. It was assumed, certainly by myself and probably others. That George Winn was a placeholder for the younger, more agile, more talented backs on the roster. That eventually he would cede the reigns of the position to another, younger back, like Jameel Poteat or even one of the freshmen. After the Pitt game the gameplan changed. Winn was the feature back, and Ralph David Abernathy IV would be his main running mate.
In retrospect that was the correct decision. RDA4 brought a lot to the offense because he was such a good compliment to Winn. After battling a Rinoceros in shoulder pads for a few series, defenses would then have to go chase a cheetah around, with predictable results. Quatro touched the ball 97 times from scrimmage and scored 7 TD's, the average length of his touchdowns was 28 yards. It goes without saying, but that is phenomenal efficiency.
The combination of Abernathy and Winn, while never explicitly the plan, served the Bearcats very well in 2013. The variation in the styles of those two backs made game planning for the Bearcats running game very difficult for opposing defensive coordinators.