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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Strength in numbers: Jayhawks favor running-back-by-committee approach

Kansas running back Darrian Miller works through drills during the team's first practice on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011. In back is freshman running back Brandon Bourbon.

Kansas running back Darrian Miller works through drills during the team's first practice on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011. In back is freshman running back Brandon Bourbon.

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JaCorey Shepherd pleased with debut

Kansas freshman wide receiver JaCorey Shepherd caught two touchdowns against McNeese State in his first game as a Jayhawk.

Kansas strong on the ground

The Jayhawks pounded the rock against McNeese State on Saturday, and look to stick with the running game as long as it's successful.

The big question surrounding Kansas University’s offense heading into last week’s season opener against McNeese State was whether the Jayhawks would have enough carries to pass around to keep their deep and talented stable of running backs happy.

In bulldozing McNeese State for 301 yards and three rushing touchdowns, the Jayhawks answered that question with a resounding yes.

In all, KU ran 55 times — in 65 plays — and spread the wealth among sophomore James Sims and freshmen Brandon Bourbon, Darrian Miller and Tony Pierson.

Of course, running the ball 85 percent of the time isn’t likely to work every weekend. And that’s what makes the demeanor of this group of backs ultra-important as it heads into the Week 2 matchup with Northern Illinois.

“We have a lot of team players,” said sophomore QB Jordan Webb. “We have a lot of unselfish guys, especially at running back, where it’s normal to want to be the guy. I’ve just been really happy with the way they’ve handled it.”

The team-first mentality has made it easy for KU coach Turner Gill to worry less about managing egos and more about who the right guy for the right situation might be. If Gill needs a playmaker who can get to the edge, Miller or Pierson is likely to get the call. If he needs tough yards inside, those carries could go to Bourbon, Miller or Sims. The bottom line is this: The Jayhawks have a back for all occasions. While that’s nothing new for running-backs coach Reggie Mitchell, who has coached more than a few big-time talents in the past, having so many at the same time is a new endeavor.

“When I was at the University of Illinois we had Rashard Mendenhall and Pierre Thomas, and then the year after that we had Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford,” said Mitchell of his former players, three of whom now collect checks in the NFL. “So I’m used to doing it, but even at those places we didn’t have as many quality guys.”

It can be dangerous to look at Week 1 and call it a blueprint for the way the Kansas offense will be run. For starters, as Gill pointed out, “We can throw the football, and we’re not scared to do that.”

However, in his ideal vision of KU’s offense, the Jayhawks would run somewhere around 60 percent of the time and throw the other 40. Just because that’s the vision, though, doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked.

“I think if you’ve got a balanced style of offense, no matter what you’re trying to do, it can definitely put more pressure on the defense,” Gill said. “I think each of our running backs has their own specific style. It can be good vision, good speed, good change of direction or toughness. It’s great for our football team to have a variety of guys that can do some good things when they’ve got the ball in their hands.”

Added Mitchell: “I think if a guy’s hot, you go with him. The thing about running backs is, someone may get dinged, so you’re never gonna have all four. It’ll balance out. The guys will be happy. And they all know their role.”

That’s not just coach-speak. It’s true.

“We’ve all come from good high school programs, and we’re all used to running the ball a large amount of the time,” Miller said. “But I knew when I came here the amount of carries I got would go down. The thing about it is making the most out of your carries.”

Miller also said there was a lot more to the multi-back approach than just checking yardage totals and touchdowns at the end of the game. He said rotating backs in and out of the game helps keep guys fresh and also made it so he and his teammates took less of a beating.

Mitchell agreed and said the coaching staff would have to get creative and find other ways to get these guys the ball, especially when one is hot and getting the bulk of the work on the ground.

“For us, right now, by-committee is the best approach,” Mitchell said. “So you just have to find the things that the guys do best and kind of do it that way. (Sims) is the lead guy, but we have some other guys who bring other things to it, so we’re gonna try to make sure we feature them, too.”

Comments

gardenjay 3 years, 2 months ago

I thought this was a great article too - thanks for keeping us fed.

johnnyhrdwd 3 years, 2 months ago

Don't forget the fullbacks doin the dirty work.

Clarence Haynes 3 years, 2 months ago

Kudos also to the O-Line that enabled these guys to get 301 yards!

Mike Kendall 3 years, 2 months ago

+1, cshjhawk. It was just good to see the Jayhawks run with success, knowing these guys are young and hopefully will be around for awhile. Now--- if we can do that against K-State!

Andy Tweedy 3 years, 2 months ago

Does anybody have a link to some better highlights of the game? I mean other than the LJW highlights. There has to be something somewhere.

Steven Mathew 3 years, 2 months ago

Haha now watch us throw the ball 55 times and run the ball 10 to completely throw northern Illinois off guard lol.

KGphoto 3 years, 2 months ago

"If Gill needs a playmaker who can get to the edge, Miller or Pierson is likely to get the call. If he needs tough yards inside, those carries could go to Bourbon, Miller or Sims."

This is the only thing that concerns me about Fantastic Four. There is now film on these guys. Northern Illinois is setting up defensive schemes right now, for when Pierson is in the backfield. It's gonna go to the outside, so he'll have guys there. Oh, Sims is in? Stack the middle.

It's not a big concern. I have confidence in this group to mix it up, and confidence in the Four to make a play. But I would like to see a couple of wrinkles added to the playbook to take advantage of a defense that over-pursues. Specifically when Pierson runs around the end.

Maybe a throwback to Webb wide open on the opposite flat.

KGphoto 3 years, 2 months ago

Very fun! Can you imagine if these guys somehow stay healthy for 3 more years together? Unlikely, but what an incredible legacy they would leave behind.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 2 months ago

The answer is called "play fake".

First play of the game, fake an inside handoff to the running back, go back and throw the bomb. Whether it is complete or not is irrelevant...you've planted the notion that Kansas is not afraid to go deep, thus the LBs and DBs can't stack for the run.

If they do stack it, the tight ends will be open 10 to 15 yards all day long!! Safe throw that gets off quick, thus the resulting in a low risk of interception or sack.

KGphoto 3 years, 2 months ago

Oh yeah. Nicknames.

Let's have 'em. I got it started but I know there are more out there.

Fantastic Four

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Taken. I know. But an homage to Knute Rockney's unstoppable backfield isn't totally out of reach. Is it? I mean it's so cool. To set divine apocalypse upon the world?)

Bonneville Backfield

Blue Flames

Four Score (...and seven points ago)

Four Wheel Drive

Okay this is a reach, but...

"You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the lone Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with Jim!"

You can pick who gets to be Superman and The Lone Ranger, but Pierson is the wind, and well, James...

KGphoto 3 years, 2 months ago

James, Brandon, Anthony, Darrian.

J BAD!

Randy Bombardier 3 years, 2 months ago

How about Fleet Four? Not worried about scouting. So you have Sizemore and Pierson in. You fake the quick pitch to Pierson and give it to Sizemore right up the middle. Burn. Or, it is fake quikpitch and play action. So they scout us. No big deal. I hope they do. What are their options. Play vanilla D, play to the run? We will do what we do and dictate to them, not the other way around. I like what the McNeese coach said, that what we did with our run game is "feared."

justinryman 3 years, 2 months ago

Un4getable

The gruesome foursome

Four on the floor

Fourtifying the ground game

Four the love of the run

okiedave 3 years, 2 months ago

I favor winning a few games before granting legendary nicknames. Kind of embarrassing to for "The gruesome foursome" to be playing for a 1-11 team. Nicknames should be earned.

nuleafjhawk 3 years, 2 months ago

awww okiedave, don't be a party pooper. Besides, if they were to go 1-11 that would be pretty dang gruesome and they would just be living up to their name.

jayhawkintx73 3 years, 2 months ago

Think about it. 4 guys who can run and run well. Fresh legs all game long.

I do not recall any screen plays to the running backs. What the running game will open up for the offense to get some big plays to fast wide receivers and to get a speedster out in the flat with blockers out in front. Kansas has a chance to become impossible to defend with a couple of top recruits at the WR position.

Webb has a strong arm, and was very accurate last week and he also had almost 30 yards rushing on designed options. He needs to execute the play action fake better, and we might get some guys with 30 yards from a defender down the field for long TDs that will force the defense to be honest, regardless of who they are.

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