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Forecasting The Miami Hurricanes’ Backfield and Projecting Its Impact

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How good can a backfield of Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Lorenzo Lingard be? Really good if used correctly.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It was not too long ago the Miami Hurricanes had two of their better running backs for consecutive tenures in Duke Johnson and Mark Walton, both of which were capable of destroying opposing defenses for long runs and electrifying games. However, the time of that has passed. Both of the two are in the pros, playing for the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals and it is time for the Hurricanes to turn over a new leaf in Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Lorenzo Lingard.

For the three, the expectations could not be higher, especially at a program like Miami. They join a long line of running backs from the Hurricanes who left college to play professionally in the NFL. Will any of the three ever join the likes of Hurricane greats Frank Gore, Edgerrin James or Clinton Portis, each of who went onto long and successful NFL careers? Maybe not but the three combined has the chance to change the Hurricanes’ season and possibly lead the team back to a conference championship and a New Years Six bowl.

For Homer, the expectations are at its peak. Homer finished last season as the starter after the starter Mark Walton went down with an ankle injury just 5 games into the season. In 13 games (8 starts) Homer was impressive, finishing with 966 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on 163 carries. Homer was named a member of the All-ACC 2nd team for the impact made and Homer’s 1185 yards from scrimmage ranked 5th out of all ACC players. In particular, Homer was especially effective and efficient in the Hurricanes’ wins against then-ranked Notre Dame (18 carries, 146 yards) and Georgia Tech (20 carries, 170 yards and 1 TD).

In the Spring practices and scrimmages, Homer was used as the starting running back and that likely is not about to change. Homer was impressive in Spring and Mark Richt has made it clear multiple times that for the Hurricanes to be successful, experience of the playbook is preferred and if any of the running backs have

Should Homer be the starting running-back for the Hurricanes, the potential to be a future NFL running-back or All-Conference selectee is there. Homer has the inherited breakaway speed (4.48 40-yard dash in testing) and vision to break long runs but has also shown the ability to break down a defense if needed.

His breakaway speed and vision was evident all of last season, including a 64-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech, where Homer hit the hole created by the left side of the line and used the speed to burn past the Virginia Tech defense, including defensive back Mook Reynolds, who has impressive speed and is a future NFL draft pick. At the time, it was the longest touchdown the Virginia Tech defense had allowed in the season.

Despite playing quarterback in high school, DeeJay Dallas came to Miami without a position. In the summer of last season, Dallas was placed as a wide receiver but the injury to Walton led Mark Richt to move Dallas to the running back position. The move proved to be beneficial for Dallas as he finished the season with 309 scrimmage yards (6.8 yards average) and 3 rushing touchdowns in just 45 plays.

Despite the limited number of plays, Dallas showed his own respective breakaway speed and his ability to be a swiss army knife for the Hurricanes.

Richt rolled Dallas into different situations, including action in the wildcat, where Dallas lined up as the quarterback, his former position when in high school. The move allowed Richt to use different plays within the wildcat, including one time where Dallas threw the ball, and kept defenses on their toes.

While Dallas likely does not have a chance to earn the starting job if Homer stays healthy, Dallas is a perfect change of pace and second running back for the offense. His versatility and catching ability allows Richt to roll out different sets and keep other defenses getting.

As for true freshman Lorenzo Lingard, the potential to be an All-American and top running back is all there.

A 5-star running back from Orange City, Lingard chose to attend Miami over the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Overall, Lingard compiled 28 offers across FBS football and was named the 2nd best RB in the nation according to 247Sports. Lingard was named an Army All-American and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida. For Miami, Lingard is the highest offensive recruit the team has had since Duke Johnson.

Lingard has the size (6’0” 195 pounds) to become a feature back in college football. Like Homer and Dallas, Lingard has amazing speed and is currently a member of Miami’s track team. He boasts similar accolades coming into Miami as the aforementioned Johnson did and with his frame, has the potential to gain even more weight, becoming even stronger.

Despite all the talent, it is unknown where on the depth chart Lingard starts his career. In Spring camp, Lingard got most of his work with the second-team offense (as did DeeJay Dallas) with Homer getting a majority of the first-team offensive carries. This is not unexpected given Homer’s breakout season and his experience. However, if anyone is to overtake Homer for the starting job this season, it will be Lingard.

Overall, for a Hurricanes’ offense that averaged just 160 rushing yards per game (71st in the NCAA) with 19 touchdowns, the three is a breath of fresh air for the Hurricanes. The hope for the offense has to be that the three combined can create an attack that keeps defenses guessing and takes pressure off of any quarterback that starts under center for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of if the starting quarterback is Rosier, Perry, Cade Weldon or even true freshman Jarren Williams, Richt may rely heavily on the running game to force defenses to put more players in the box, set up play action and keep the quarterback calm and mistake free.

The problem with the backfield, however, will be making sure each of the running backs get their carries in. Most teams do not have three running backs capable of impacting a game but last season, Alabama and Georgia both found solutions to the problem.

In Georgia’s case, the Bulldogs finished the season 9th in rushing yards per game (258.4) and had 35 combined touchdowns between their running backs. For Georgia, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel acted as the primary ball carriers and had 223 and 156 carries respectively while D’Andre Swift acted primarily as the all-purpose back and had made an impact on 98 plays (81 carries, 17 receptions)

Could the Hurricanes replicate something similar with their backfield? It is possible and maybe even likely. Assuming Homer takes one of the primary ballcarrier roles, Lorenzo Lingard could likely take a similar role to Michel and have around similar carries. That leaves DeeJay Dallas to act as the all-purpose back.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The issue with this situation for the Hurricanes would be the offensive line and its impact. In the Spring game, the offensive line struggled and neither quarterback or even running back was able to get anything going. This caused Mark Richt to be clearly upset about the performance when asked about it after the game.

“[The starting defense] were stout up front. The offense couldn’t really get much run going, couldn’t consistently form a good pocket.” Richt said following the Spring game.

For Richt to emulate what Georgia did with their running game, it’s imperative that the Hurricanes figure out the offensive line and solve the problem. Without it, the backs won’t have enough time to hit their holes and the Hurricanes’ offense would just continue to go backward.

If the Hurricanes do figure out the offensive line, the team has the potential to have an elite rushing attack capable of changing games and slowing down the pace of games when needed. With Homer and Lingard’s workhorse ability and Dallas’ versatility and electrifying performance, it’s difficult to see a situation where all three do not make a significant impact for the Hurricanes this upcoming season and in future seasons.