The game of college football has changed. When our parents where watching college football Nebraska, Oklahoma and the option dominated. In today's game, the spread offense is spreading from school to school like wildfire, and many people feel that the running back position has become relatively obsolete. That being said, the heart of a good offense is still a good running game. The past three years Miami has had that covered with all-world back Duke Johnson. Now that Duke is playing on Sunday's, his shadow looms large in the Miami backfield. Let's take a look at the players looking to step up and out of that shadow and continue the Cane tradition of great running backs.
Everyone knows this Hurricane offense is going to sink or swim based on the development and production of quarterback Brad Kaaya, and nothing helps a young quarterback's development better than a consistent and strong running game. Joe Yearby is first in line to provide just that for this Hurricane offense. Miami fans should be excited about this, Yearby is a high school legend in south Florida. In his time at Miami Central he racked up over 5,000 yards and 63 touchdowns while leading his team to two state championships. A five star recruit by the time he finished high school, Yearby chose Miami over some of the top programs in the country, to include Florida State and Florida. Yearby stepped right into the role of Johnson's backup and flashed some of the playmaking ability that Miami coaches knew he had during his freshman campaign in Coral Gables.
Fans got their first real look at Yearby in the second game of the season last year. While it's not fair to assess someone based on how they perform in a blowout vs. FAMU, he did gain 95 yards on the ground. A better measuring stick came a few weeks later when Miami faced Duke on a rainy night at Dolphins Stadium, and Yearby measured up just fine. His diversity was highlighted that night. Basically in spot duty, he picked up 61 yards on the ground on just 9 carries and added 59 more yards receiving on 3 catches, one of those catches being a crucial 47 yard touchdown catch that helped Miami secure the win. Just two weeks later during an amazing offensive display for the Hurricanes vs. Cincinatti, he recorded his first career 100 yard rushing game on a mere 8 attempts. The following week Yearby showed his ability to carry the load. In a win vs. North Carolina he had the most carries of his season at 22 and again went over 100 yards and his first and only score on the ground. Yearby finished the year with over 500 yards on the ground at almost 6 yards per attempt.
Heading into his second season at Miami, the secret is out. ACC coaches and media alike have taken notice of Yearby. You can't find a pre-season article, blog, or magazine that doesn't have him ranked as one of the top five backs in the conference, and he deserves it. Offensive Coordinater James Coley should be able to move Yearby all around the formation, attacking defenses in a variety of ways. Yearby's speed and explosiveness should lead to a lot of big plays in both the running and passing games, and solidify the Hurricanes offense as one of the better ones in the ACC this year.
Gus "The Bus" Edwards will most likely be the one tapped when Yearby needs a blow. Edwards provides the Canes with, what Liam Neeson would say is "a very particular set of skills". Standing at 6'2" and weighing 230 pounds he has the ability to pound out short yardage runs, but Gus is no big slow back. Even as the number three back last season Edwards still was productive. In the one game he had more than 20 carries he went over 100 yards and 2 scores in a blowout victory over rival Virginia Tech. He finished the season with a total of 338 yards, but more impressively he found the end zone 5 times and averaged 5 yards per carry.
As Edwards is not atop the depth chart don't expect to see many games where he has 20 plus carries. However, the carries he will get will be at crucial times. He is the perfect compliment to Yearby, the "thunder" to his "lightning". A back of his size will physically wear on opposing defenses and will help the Hurricanes impose their will on the opposition. During every game there are third and short, or a goal-to-go short yardage scenarios that will help decide the victor. This is where Edwards will be most effective. With all the great things Yearby can do, he can't grind out the really tough yards in between the tackles the way Edwards can and this will be where his impact is going to be felt the most. Expect to see Gus in the end zone a lot this fall.
Canes fans celebrated back in February when Walton made his decision to come to the U. Another highly recruited running back out of south Florida, noticing a theme here, he seems to have everything you would want in a young back. While he is not the thickest kid, 5'11" and only 180 pounds, he runs a lot bigger than the back of his football card would lead you to believe. He finished his high school career at Booker T. Washington with over 1,900 yards and 31 touchdowns while winning three state titles. If anyone knows what to do with this young back it would be his former high school coach Tim "Ice" Harris, who is entering his second season as the running backs coach at UM. Walton's overall impact should be minimal this season. Look for him possibly playing special teams as a kick returner this year and giving fans a taste of things to come.
Rounding out this group of talented backs is 6'2" 215 pound sophomore Trayone Gray. A converted quarterback, Gray enters his second season hoping to be a larger contributor to the offense. Fans did not see much of Gray during his freshman season. Despite scoring a touchdown on his first career carry vs. FAMU, he only managed to get 5 additional carries all season. With the wealth of talent currently ahead of Gray on the depth chart, don't expect Gray to improve much on his freshman numbers.
Leading the way for Yearby and company will be fullback Walter Tucker. Another local guy, Tucker was a two-sport star in high school who won two state championships in the 110 meter hurdles. At 6' tall, 225 pounds his athleticism will be a huge plus in the Canes running game. A fullback that can run allows flexibility in the running game. Tucker can lead the way on sweeps and other outside runs, not just short yardage runs up the middle. While he may not even touch the football all season, his impact will still be felt as an athletic, road-grading fullback. Look for at least a few long runs being broken off of blocks thrown by Tucker.
Coach Al Golden prides himself on running the football. While coaches, fans and media all expect big things from Brad Kaaya, he is still young, and a balanced offense with a strong running game will do nothing but good for his growth and development. Joe Yearby is prime for a breakout season, and that is just fine by most Hurricane fans as this will directly equate to more wins for Miami.