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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Running back rotation up in the air

I wrote a story for today's newspaper about the running back depth chart. Here's how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn running backs coach Curtis Luper spoke confidently about his group last week, touting the experience of his multitude of veterans and the raw skills of his newcomers, seemingly immune from the crippling depth problems his fellow assistants have had to deal with all month.

Eric Smith’s arrest and tenuous standing on the team doesn’t bring the Tigers’ running back depth to a critical level, but it certainly changes the position’s dynamic.

Auburn, at least for now, has one less option in its running game. Coaches have already determined that senior Ben Tate will be the primary ballcarrier, but they still need to establish a clear No. 2 out of a group that includes H-back Mario Fannin and true freshmen Onterio McCalebb and Dontae Aycock.

“Obviously, you need two in this league. We think we have three who could possibly do what we ask them to do,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said last week, before the Smith ordeal. “We’re going to figure out that order pretty quick.”

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If there was one position where Auburn could afford to lose a player, it was running back. Tate has a lock on the No. 1 job, Fannin can play there in a pinch and McCalebb and Aycock have impressed for being youngsters.

Still, Smith, at 237 pounds, was the power back of the group. Tate and Fannin could probably play that way, but they're not as big. So it will be interesting to see how Auburn handles short-yardage situations.

But the biggest question is how Auburn will split the carries this season. Just for fun, I looked back at how Malzahn split the carries among running backs in his three years as a college coach at Tulsa and Arkansas:

Tulsa in 2008
  • RB Tarrion Adams, 247 carries, 1,523 yards, 6.2 avg., 14 TD
  • RB Jawad Williams, 86 carries, 523 yards, 6.1 avg., 3 TD
  • RB Charles Opeseyitan, 45 carries, 355 yards, 7.9 avg, 2 TD
  • FB Courtney Tennial, 45 carries, 220 yards, 4.9 avg., 7 TD
  • HB Charles Clay, 25 carries, 151 yards, 5.8 avg., 2 TD
Tulsa in 2007
  • RB Adams, 202 carries, 1,113 yards, 5.5 avg., 7 TD
  • RB Williams, 104 carries, 452 yards, 4.3 avg., 2 TD
  • HB Clay, 49 carries, 255 yards, 5.2 avg., 1 TD
  • FB Cody Madison, 8 carries, 25 yards, 3.1 avg., 0 TD
Arkansas in 2006
  • RB Darren McFadden, 284 carries, 1,714 yards, 5.8 avg., 14 TD
  • RB Felix Jones, 154 carries, 1,225 yards, 7.6 avg., 6 TD
  • RB Michael Smith, 35 carries, 247 yards, 7.1 avg., 3 TD
  • RB Hezekiah Smith, 9 carries, 61 yards, 6.8 avg., 0 TD
  • FB Peyton Hillis, 13 carries, 57 yards, 4.4 avg., 1 TD
And just for fun, here's Auburn breakdown of carries from last year:
  • RB Tate, 159 carries, 664 yards, 4.2 avg., 3 TD
  • RB Brad Lester, 80 carries, 314 yards, 3.6 avg., 2 TD
  • RB Fannin, 54 carries, 238 yards, 4.4 avg., 1 TD
  • RB Smith, 21 carries, 98 yards, 4.0 avg., 0 TD
  • RB Tristan Davis, 8 carries, 44 yards, 5.5 avg., 1 TD
So what does this tell us? Well, a couple of things (and yes, I do realize that each situation, including Auburn's this year, is as unique):
  1. That Arkansas backfield in 2006 was amazing. No wonder the Razorbacks never threw the ball, driving Mitch Mustain's mother crazy. I wouldn't put the ball in the air either with that roster of backs.
  2. Auburn's running game was abysmal last year. The team leader had 664 rushing yards? Seriously?
  3. Malzahn clearly likes having a No. 1 guy, but he does not hesitate to give the backup running back a major role in the offense. In two of his college seasons, the No. 2 running back got at least 50 percent of the carries as the starter.
  4. There is clearly a No. 2 guy and not a group of players getting equal carries behind the starter.
So who is Auburn's backup going to be. Here's guessing that it's going to be McCalebb, just because his speed something different to the equation. I think Fannin will do the most of his work at H-back, which will get him out in the passing game more. And although Aycock might not redshirt this year, I doubt he'll have a major role.



jdinmacon said...

My guess would be Tate gets the most carries with McCalleb being #2. Fannin needs to get the ball though, he's a dynamic runner and should be getting the ball some.

AUBigCat said...

AB that is a great analysis of Malzahn's use of RBs! I would like to see McCalebb closer to 180lbs before he get the #2 spot. I know he's fast but we wont out run everyone all the time. That's a lot of punishment he'd take over the course of a season. I'd much rather see Fannin be #2. Let McCalebb take more of the H-back snaps at least until Smith gets back. Then move Mario back to H-back if they choose.