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2020 Miami Hurricanes Position Review: Running Backs

An improvement to the run game needs to be made in 2021.

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes have had draft-worthy running backs dating back to before the program’s first National Championship in 1983. “OJ” Anderson was the first ‘Canes star running back in the late 70’s. In 1978, Anderson ran for 1,226 yards and eight touchdowns. He went on to win two Super Bowl with the New York Giants, including Super Bowl MVP honors in Super Bowl XXV.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Once the ‘83 season hit, Miami began to spread the ball around to a variety of running backs that went on to NFL careers. Guys like Albert Bentley, Alonzo Highsmith, Melvin Bratton, Cleveland Gary and Warren Williams played for Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson. Once Dennis Erickson took over, the position was more of a bruiser in the likes of Stephen McGuire, Larry Jones, Donnell Bennett, and James Stewart- but they didn’t get a ton of carries in the single back offense.

Virginia v Miami

Butch Davis revitalized the RBU title with a string of NFL ready runners, including the ‘Canes first 1,000 yard rusher since Anderson in Danyell Ferguson. Then came the NFL Hall of Famer and mainstays in Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, et al.

In 2020, Miami had three running backs with a lot of potential but who would need the offensive line to improve dramatically from 2019. The clear leader and starter was Cam’Ron Harris, with two true freshmen picking up the back up roles in Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney Jr.

Harris led the ‘Canes in rushing with 643 yards. In his first season as the feature back, Harris ran for 5.1 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns in 2020. He was known for explosive plays like his big TD runs against UAB, Louisville, Duke, and Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl. Harris also caught one touchdown this season.

Chaney Jr. emerged as a ground and pound threat as the season went on. Chaney ran for 322 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. He also averaged 13 yards per catch turning swing and wheel routes up field for explosive plays.

In my post “I like the way you move,” I talked about Chaney and his to-form running style. It took him a few games to adjust to a more zone based system (he ran a lot of gap scheme in high school) but his vision picked up as the year went on. Learning ‘slow to-fast thru’ and ‘bang-bend-bounce’ takes time and a vision that can be natural for some but acquired for others.

Knighton, more of an outside threat and speed receiver, averaged four yards per carry on 209 yards rushing and a TD. Also a capable receiver, Knighton averaged 12.3 yards per catch with a touchdown. Knighton finished the season banged up which is common for a younger player getting some veteran carries against defenses like Oklahoma State, UNC, UVA, and Pitt.

Veteran back up Robert Burns ran for 63 yards (3.9 yards per carry) on the season.

RB woes on the OL/H’s

Miami did not have a running back rush for 1,000 yards, while UNC had two pick up the 1K mark on the shortened 2020 season. That’s not good as the ‘Canes top competition in the Coastal division is the Tar Heels. But that’s not entirely on the backs, as the O-Line and TE/H’s certainly shared in the low output. I know it’s lame to post your own tweets but I’m not digging up these plays again.

Miami’s blocking

UNC’s blocking

2021 Look Ahead

All three of the main running backs from the 2020 season return for 2021, and the RB Room adds four-star Chaminade-Madonna running back Thad Franklin to the list of Blue Chip ball carriers. I would imagine Chaney would take over starting duties by midseason and Harris will play a 3rd down role with Knighton in for certain packages and plays that need his dynamic speed. Franklin could make an impact on special teams something the ‘Canes desperately need both regards to coverage and returns.