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Grading The Running Backs

One of the preconceptions I had about Butch Jones and his staff was that they were a more balanced offense. The formations might had a lot in common with the Brian Kelly era, but at heart was a desire to run the Football a little bit more than Kelly had, which isn't hard because Kelly never ran. Ever. So the bar was pretty low but I still came away a little bit disappointed with the running game this year.

Injuries played their part in my disappointment to be sure. I was expecting Darrin Williams to have a nice season as the backup. Maybe not huge numbers, but maybe a solid 300 yards with a TD or two. Instead Williams got banged up in the Oklahoma game, questionable for the next few and ultimately was never heard from again. That put John Goebel in the role as the primary back up for the rest of the year. Goebel is another guy who battled injuries during his career. After a strong 2008 year where he was IMO the best RB on the roster an injury last year gave Pead the "back up" job at which point he blossomed to become the best back on the roster. The Injuries definitely took their toll on the Bearcats in the course of the season. It was difficult at times for UC to field two healthy and capable backs at the same time.

The funny thing is if I asked you how you felt about the performance of the running backs this year most people would give a positive response. If you were asked how this years group compared to this years most people would favor this year. But going back and looking at the stats and comparing them to the last group there was a pretty startling discovery the group this year only ran for 77 more yards on the year, 1880 to 1803, on more 41 carries, 402 to 361, with 8 fewer TD's 15 to 23, and more fumbles 2 compared to 1.

It is not that the running game wasn't productive enough. There was plenty of production on hand to be sure. The 4.68 yards per carry average was the second best total of the last decade, second only to last years 4.99 number. But it just seems like there was something missing from the attack in terms of running the Football. For a start there wasn't a ton of variability in the run game. As a Rich Rod acolyte Jones running game doesn't have a lot of plays, there are just three of them the inside/outside zone is the primary scheme but there is also the read option and some others like the jet sweep series, or the counter which was run against South Florida and never seen again. The problem is that UC ran the hell out of the outside zone and neglected the inside. When an offense has such an overwhelming tendency it makes it that much easier for an opposing defensive coordinator to take that away, which is exactly what Syracuse, West Virginia and USF did to the running game.

However in some cases when you have a player like Isaiah Pead it really doesn't matter what a defense is trying to do, he will beat it. Pead had a really weird season despite not logging a carry in the Indiana State and NC State games he became the first Bearcat since Richard Hall to compile a 1,000 yard season. He was by far the most explosive player on the offense he had 7 plays of 30 yards per more on the season, only one of them receiving. I guess the biggest reason that I was disappointed with the running game is that the most explosive offensive talent on the roster wasn't given enough opportunities with the ball. A guy who has averaged 6.9 yards per touch for his career should probably have the ball in his hands for more than 183 plays in a season.

Whats your take on the running backs this year?