There is no more explosive talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Cincinnati Bearcats than Mike Boone. That has been the case, or at least could be argued, for three seasons. In 2014, he was a standout freshman that erupted for big runs and scored a whole bunch of touchdowns. In 2015, he did the same thing but better.
Then 2016 hit. The talent didn’t go away, but the aid of a strong offensive line and the benefit of creative play calling evaporated. Boone’s production went out the window as well, as he struggled to get into the open field and make people miss, which is the strongest part of his skill set.
From 2014 to 2015 he averaged more than six yards per run and scored 18 touchdowns. Last year, he averaged 3.7 yards per carry and got into the end zone only twice. A foot injury obviously kept him from taking on a full workload, but even before he got hurt, the results were underwhelming. It was a disappointing fall in a year where disappointments rained down from on high all over Nippert Stadium.
In all, the 5’10’, 205-pound Boone tallied 388 yards on 105 carries in nine games, dropping his career yards per carry average down by an entire yard.
However, there were some positives to be found if you are willing to go deep and find them. Firstly, Boone improved as a receiver, which is a good thing since giving him the ball while he is already on the move can only help him. He snagged 20 receptions for 249 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception. In his two previous seasons, he had combined for 21 catches and 170 yards.
Thanks to that receiving work, as well as his improved work as a kick returner, Boone actually set a career-high in all-purpose yards as a junior, tallying 1,143 compared to the 1,136 he had in 2015. He piled up 506 yards on kickoff returns to get to that total, as he averaged a healthy 24.1 yards per return. It remains to be seen if he will go on returning kicks since his offensive workload should increase with Tion Green gone, but if he does, the Bearcats have a sure handed (and footed) option.
Boone also flashed his real skill level a few times in 2016, specifically against Purdue, Miami-Ohio and East Carolina. He had 78 yards on the ground and 22 through the air in the win over Purude. He only averaged 3.9 yards per carry against the RedHawks, but he finished with 108 yards from scrimmage thanks to four receptions. Finally, against ECU, he ran for 88 yards on only 14 carries and turned his lone reception into a 54-yard gain.
That play-making ability is what makes Boone special. It also showed that he is still the same player he was in 2014 and 2015. Now he gets a chance to play in a new offensive system which will hopefully cater to his abilities more than last year’s did. If it does, we’ll get more 2014/15 than 2016 and that’s an exciting prospect.