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Returning Player Refresher: Michael Warren

After literally carrying the offense in 2018, Warren is back to serve as the Bearcats’ lead rusher and to dominate any defense that attempts to stop him.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Temple Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There were three running backs who averaged at least 100 rushing yards per game in the American Athletic Conference last season. Two of them (Darrell Henderson and Ryquell Armstead) are now in the NFL. The other is Michael Warren who was the top running back for the 2018 Cincinnati Bearcats, leading the way for an offense which featured more than a few emerging stars.

It all started in the season opener against UCLA, much as it did for the entire team. The Bearcats made a statement as a team and Warren made one of his own. He carried the ball 35 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns. One of those scores came on a fourth-and-goal and put the Bearcats over the edge in a season-opening victory. Head coach Luke Fickell showed a great deal of trust in Warren in that game and that trust never wavered.

Obviously, Warren never gave any reason for the coaching staff to worry. He reached the century mark in rushing yards seven times and had at least 60 yards in every other contest he played. It wasn’t just a ton of yards that he piled up either, although his 1,329 total rushing yards ranked second only to Henderson among AAC rushers. Warren also compiled quite the collection of carries, with the Bearcats leaning on him to keep the offense moving. He carried the ball at least 20 times in six of the 12 games he appeared and missed out on double-digit touches only twice all season. In those two games, he was either removed early (Alabama A&M) or sat out entirely (East Carolina).

With an AAC-leading 244 carries to go with a 5.45 yards per carry average and those 1,329 total rushing yards, Warren put together a season that surpassed anything a Bearcat had accomplished since George Winn rushed for 1,334 yards on 243 carries in 2012. However, Warren actually outpaced Winn’s exceptional 2012 campaign because of his ability to find the end zone. He rushed for at least two touchdowns seven times, finishing with a total of 19 rushing scores compared with Winn’s 13 from 2012.

Although Warren was at his best when Desmond Ridder turned around and handed him the ball, he also got work in the passing game. He caught 25 passes for 232 yards and an additional touchdown, yielding an all-purpose yardage total of 1,561 yards which equated to a team-high 130.1 per game. For context, Kahlil Lewis ranked second on the roster at 61 yards per game.

Warren’s ascension to the top of the depth chart — and to the all-AAC second team — shouldn’t have been entirely surprising considering the flashes he had in 2017. Although fellow freshman Gerrid Doaks got a bit more attention that year, Warren had a team-high 820 all-purpose yards. Such production was buoyed by his efforts as a kick returner but he succeeded as a rusher as well, averaging six yards per carry. Doaks is back this season and even though Warren carried the offense by himself at times last year, the rushing responsibilities may be a bit more spread out. However, even if Doaks, Charles McClelland and Tavion Thomas siphon off a few carries from Warren, there’s no doubt that he is the lead back and will once again be among the best in the AAC if not the entire country.