Salting the Wounds: Running Backs

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Jamal Wilson was carted off the field at Vanderbilt after breaking his ankle

UMass entered 2014 with a crowded backfield, and a cast of characters that the crew here at FV actually thought highly of.Seriously, we thought running was going to be a strong point for this offense, and that we’d need a consistent threat in the running game in order to win games.

While that would have helped win more, perhaps, it turns out we were very wrong.

The passing attack carried the Minutemen, and the running backs were relegated to changeup and game-icing duty. Considering the wealth of talent we thought we had in the backfield, it was a bit of a surprise to say the least, though injuries and and unexpected departure had a bit to do with that.

Since Drew Harris couldn’t be bothered to suit up for UMass before deciding to leave, we were left with pretty much what we had at the end of last season: Jamal Wilson, Jordan BROADSWORD, Lorenzo Woodley, and the exciting Sharach Abrokwah, who really came on in late 2013 when he averaged over 100 yards in his two appearances. Oh, except Shad couldn’t play in the first four games because of a mystery “non-football, non-disciplinary” eligibility issue that had to be academic, right?

Add in freshman JT Blyden with a sprinkling of Daquan Mack, and there seemed to be some promise behind the quarterback.

Then Jamal Wilson broke his ankle against Vanderbilt. Done for the year. Okay. We have a bunch of other guys to take the load, right?

Eh. Kind of.

What we mainly saw once Shad returned to the roster was a two-headed rushing attack of Abrokwah and Woodley. GFOB Dan Malone did the dirty work of addition and discovered the following:

If you were to mash Abrokwah and Woodley together to make a hypothetical back – we’ll call him Shadzo Abrokley – his numbers would have looked like this:

  • 225 carries (4th in the MAC)
  • 993 yards (6th)
  • 4.4 YPC (23rd)
  • 12 touchdowns (T-3rd)

And yeah, that’s not bad at all. But I distinctly remember 95 of those yards and one of those touchdowns came within the last 5 minutes of the Kent State game, when UMass had already-pretty much-basically sealed it, and just gave it to Woodley to bleed the clock. I understand that we were 0-6 at that point, and that no lead is safe, but this was not a drive in which the game was really in the balance. Take away that three minute drive in which every single play was a handoff to Lorenzo, and the numbers dip a little, and start to look SLIGHTLY less impressive over the course of a season.

There was a similar situation in the game against the Fighting Emus of Eastern Michigan as well. UMass, given the ball on their own 24, up 36-14, with 11 minutes left, was most likely not losing that game. They had been in control all day, and again just needed to bleed some clock. So what did they do? They bled the hell out of the clock, handing the ball off 12 times between Shad and ‘Zo, ultimately fumbling the ball away at the EMU 13. 61 yards on the ground, one incomplete pass, and almost seven and a half minutes taken off the clock, effectively eliminating any chance of an EMU comeback.

The final drive in that game saw UMass with a bit over two minutes left. Shad and Broadsword again just pounded the rock for 42 yards until the ref blew the final whistle.

You see where I’m going with this?

Let’s look at one more game, the third and final win. You are up 17-10 against Ball So Hard State and have just intercepted the ball. Trey Seals has brought it to the BSU 36. You are leading in the fourth quarter. WHAT DO YOU DO?

A) Give the ball to Baylark Shadzo Abrokley
B) Pretend you have a desire to do something other than give the ball to Shadzo Abrokley

The correct answer is A, which UMass did for five plays until Elgin Long, whose dad is pretty cool (yo Mr. Long what up), took an end-around seven yards for the score. After a three-and-out, UMass got the ball back one more time, and rushed Lorenzo Woodley nine times and Elgin Long one more for good measure, eating up the final four and a half minutes and 26 yards.

So we have five drives in three wins which account for 260 yards and two scores. I don’t want to take anything away from the running backs on this team. I thought they were highly effective when we needed them the most: icing games and ensuring victory. We saw at Miami what happens when we continue to chuck the ball around after gaining a solid lead. So in that sense, these guys did a hell of a job in those three wins. But it doesn’t seem as though they were really trusted to move the sticks when the game was undecided.

Moving forward, this team will have to figure out a way to integrate the running game into the offense more. Injuries, eligibility, and desire to play college football all affected this group last year, and with a full recruiting period, spring ball, and another training camp, I’m feeling pretty positive about where this group stands looking towards 2015.

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