Posts tagged: Running Back

Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – USC Trojans

By Sam Saig, July 14, 2009 10:03 am

Based on pre-season attention, USC may not have one of the top four running backs in the Pac-10 heading into 2009. After all, other conference headliners like Best, Rodgers, Gerhart, and Blount have garnered most of the accolades from last season, and deservedly so. But a strong case could be made that the Trojans feature up to five of the top 10 tailbacks in the conference; the talent in the SC backfield is that good. In fact, this may be the deepest group of runners in the country.

Last season, the Trojans did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher and still managed to finish with the 3rd most rushing yards in the Pac-10. The unit has everything a coach could ask for – speed, power, quickness, experience, youthfulness, explosion and perhaps most importantly; confidence. So how will Pete Carroll and Co. manage all of the talent? It won’t be easy, but most coaching staffs would love to have the same problem.

The closest thing the Trojans have to a feature back is senior Stafon Johnson. Johnson led the Trojans in rushing last season with 705 yards and nine touchdowns on 138 carries (5.1 YPC). For his career, he has amassed 1,395 yards and 14 touchdowns. Johnson also led SC’s punt return unit, fielding 33 punts for 305 yards (9.2 yards per return).

At 5-11 210 pounds, Johnson runs with a balanced mix of speed and power, but it is his vision that separates him from the rest of the crowded SC backfield. He is an intuitive runner who has an exceptional feel for the game. Johnson enters his final year having never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, but likely would have done so at almost any other program in the country where the carries were easier to come by.

Stafon Johnson refuses to go down

Stafon Johnson refuses to go down

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Washington State Cougars

By Sam Saig, July 12, 2009 9:54 am

Even the most fervent optimists in the Washington State fan base cringed at the sight of last year’s Cougar offense. The running game never got on track, and WSU finished 111th in the country in rushing with just over 95 yards a game on the ground. With that said, the strength of this year’s offense appears to be the rushing attack.

Head coach Paul Wulff insists on running a no-huddle offense, but last year it was abandoned for a variety of reasons including personnel issues and injuries. Wulff could struggle to implement the offense again for similar reasons this season, so it may not be a bad idea for him to rely on a clock-consuming ground game instead. Washington State will feature up to five solid tailbacks, including an exciting new transfer and a reliable veteran starter looking to close out his career on a high note.

Senior Dwight Tardy enters 2009 atop the depth chart. The 5-10, 208-pound running back has loads of experience, starting in 26 games during his career. Tardy has rushed for 1,824 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on 421 career carries. Last season, he led the Cougars in rushing with 481 yards and three touchdowns.

Dwight Tardy cuts to the endzone

Dwight Tardy cuts to the endzone

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Oregon State Beavers

By Sam Saig, July 10, 2009 7:09 pm

On September 6th 2008, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley watched helplessly as Penn State hammered the Beavers 45-14. Rarely can something good come out of such an embarrassing defeat, but OSU’s offensive strategy changed from that point forward. Riley realized that he had to put the ball in the hands of a 5-7 190-pound freshman as much as possible, and that’s exactly what he did.

Super sophomore Jacquizz Rodgers enters 2009 on just about every pre-season award list imaginable. The Richmond (TX) native is a Doak Walker Award candidate, a pre-season All-American, and he’s being mentioned on most pre-season Heisman watch lists.

The highly entertaining Rodgers is coming off of a fantastic freshman season where he ran for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns despite not playing a full season. He averaged 113.9 rushing yards per game, finishing second in the Pac-10 and 12th nationally.

He also caught 29 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown. Rodgers became the Pac-10’s all-time leading rusher among freshmen, as well as becoming the first freshman in conference history to win the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year Award. Almost every major publication in the country named Rodgers a Freshman All-American at the end of the season. He was a third team All-American selection by the Associated Press and Rivals.com.

Quizz Rodgers stuns the USC Trojans

'Quizz Rodgers stuns the USC Trojans

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Cal Bears

By Sam Saig, July 8, 2009 9:19 am

In 2002, Jeff Tedford became Cal’s head coach. Prior to that time, he was known for his innovative passing offenses and unique ability to develop quarterbacks. But since Tedford’s arrival in Berkeley, Cal has been known more for its running game. The Bears have produced seven straight 1,000-yard rushers, which is the nation’s longest active streak. Former star running backs like J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, and Justin Forsett have all successfully transitioned into the NFL, and it probably won’t be long before another Cal runner joins them.

The Pac-10 will feature some of America’s most talented tailbacks this fall. In a conference full of stars, Cal may have the Best one of all.

Junior sensation Jahvid Best enters the 2009 season as a legitimate Heisman candidate. The electrifying Best ran for 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns during a breakout sophomore campaign. He led the Pac-10 in rushing yards and finished 3rd nationally last season. His 1,580 yards are the second most in school history for a single season.

Jahvid Best leaves defenders feeling helpless

Jahvid Best leaves defenders feeling helpless

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Washington Huskies

By Sam Saig, July 5, 2009 6:55 pm

New Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian inherits an offense that ranked 106th nationally in rushing yards in 2008. The former USC offensive coordinator will have to hit the ground running in his first season at U-Dub, and so will his team. Washington tailbacks have been plagued by injuries over the last year, and most of the depth chart is full of underclassmen. Still, there is potential in this year’s Huskies rushing unit, with a total of 13 players returning that had carries in 2008.

The off-season started with some bad news in Seattle. Sophomore Terrance Dailey led UW with 338 rushing yards last season, but after shoulder surgery in January he is no longer with the program.

The best news for Washington’s running game is that QB Jake Locker returns. Locker could conceivably lead the team in rushing yards this season, and if he can stay healthy, his presence should keep the ground game from a repeat of 2008’s miserable performance.

Washington’s feature back could be redshirt freshman Chris Polk. Polk was the starting running back for the first two games of 2008 before injuries forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Although Polk played as a true freshman, his injuries allowed him to qualify for a medical redshirt.

Chris Polk with the stiff arm

Chris Polk with the stiff arm

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Arizona State Sun Devils

By Sam Saig, July 3, 2009 1:38 am

Much like UCLA, the Arizona State running game was nothing to write home about in 2008. The Sun Devils finished 113th nationally, averaging a meager 2.9 yards per carry. Head coach Dennis Erickson made it clear that last year’s rushing results were unacceptable, and this off-season the ASU coaching staff altered the playbook in an attempt to boost production. On paper, this rushing unit is quite capable of having a big season, but it may take the improved effort of up to four tailbacks.

The incumbent at running back is senior Dimitri Nance. Nance led all ASU halfbacks in 2008 with 410 yards and three touchdowns. He split carries with Keegan Herring (graduated) last season in Tempe, and enters 2009 with 1,139 yards and 13 touchdowns for his career. At 5-10 218-pounds, Nance is always moving forward, and runs with a compact style. He is also a reliable pass-catcher, with 35 receptions for 247 yards in his career. The Euless, Texas native should be an asset in short yardage and goal line situations.

Although Nance can be a solid inside-runner, he lacks explosion and has never run for 100 yards in a game. Last season Nance ran into fumbling trouble in multiple games, and his playing time could be reduced this fall if the problem persists.

Dimitri Nance braces for impact

Dimitri Nance braces for impact

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – UCLA Bruins

By Sam Saig, June 30, 2009 11:11 pm

Last season, the UCLA running game ranked 116th nationally (out of 120 teams). While these numbers still have head coach Rick Neuheisel scratching his head, blame for the pitiful production must be split equally among the backs and the offensive line. Still, there is hope in Westwood for 2009. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow has a solid stable of backs to work with despite losing a few from last year.

The off-season started with some tough losses for the Bruins running game. Last year’s leading rusher Kahlil Bell is gone. Bell finished his four-year Bruin career with over 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Next, talented sophomore Aundre Dean announced that he was transferring to TCU. Not long afterwards, Raymond Carter, another highly regarded runner, announced that he was headed to Colorado State. Both Dean and Carter were four-star talents that coach Neuheisel expected to use as feature backs one day. Losing both of them was a big blow for a unit desperate for explosive talent.

Now, it’s up to a group of relatively unproven tailbacks to revive the UCLA ground game.

Christian Ramirez takes the handoff

Christian Ramirez takes the handoff

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Stanford Cardinal

By Sam Saig, June 28, 2009 9:07 am

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh demands physical toughness out of his players. Next season, the Cardinal will showcase that toughness with a heavy dose of power running. Returning to the Farm will be a two-sport superstar at running back, ready to make his last season in Palo Alto a special one.

Senior Toby Gerhart will look to build on a phenomenal junior season. The 6-1 237 pound tailback finished third in the Pac-10 with 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2008. The 1,136 yards gave Gerhart a single-season rushing record at Stanford, while his 15 scores are second in school history for a single-season. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and totaled eight 100-yard games, more than any other running back in the Pac-10 last season. Gerhart earned 2nd team all-conference honors in 2008.

Toby Gerhart shreds the tackle

Toby Gerhart sheds the tackle

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Arizona Wildcats

By Sam Saig, June 27, 2009 10:42 am

After offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes installed his innovative spread offense in 2007, fans called the Wildcats’ attack the “AirZona Offense”. While there is no doubt that Arizona has flourished in the passing game since Dykes’ arrival, the running game has been just as impressive. One of the Pac-10’s best one-two punches at running back returns to the Old Pueblo this fall. Head coach Mike Stoops has assembled a talented backfield, rich with depth and versatility.

Is it possible for a tailback to rush for a “quiet” 1,153 yards and 13 touchdowns? Junior Nic Grigsby did just that in 2008. While other Pac-10 runners got all the accolades, the nimble Grigsby finished last season as the conference’s 4th leading rusher. His 1,153 yards place him 9th in school history for yards in a season. His 13 rushing touchdowns are 3rd in school history for a single-season. The 5-10, 190 pound speedster averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2008 and scored at least one TD in 10 of his 13 games played.

Nic Grigsby celebrates a trip to the endzone

Nic Grigsby celebrates a trip to the endzone

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Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Oregon Ducks

By Sam Saig, June 24, 2009 11:27 am

The Oregon Ducks know how to run the football. Only the triple-option offense of Navy kept Oregon from having America’s best rushing attack in 2008. With over 280 yards per game on the ground, Oregon devastated it’s opponents with a potent combination of speed and power.

Chip Kelly’s spread-offense produced two 1,000-yard rushers last season, only the second time in school history that it has happened. Throw in QB Jeremiah Masoli’s 718 yards on the ground, and it isn’t hard to see why the Ducks scored over 40 points a game in 2008.

But one of those 1,000-yard rushers is gone. RB Jeremiah Johnson graduated last season, finishing his fine career at Oregon with 2,336 yards and 30 TD’s. Can we really expect the Ducks to match last year’s productivity with the loss of their leading rusher? It won’t be easy, but a 240-pound bulldozer could pave the way for Oregon in 2009.

Ask Pac-10 defenses about senior RB LeGarrette Blount and you might see a few cringing faces. Better yet, ask Oklahoma State, who wanted no part of the 6-2 240 pound bruiser in last year’s Holiday Bowl.

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