No Fewer Than Six Running Backs Loom Large In Fiesta Matchup
Dec. 31, 2001
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - When it comes to carrying the football, Colorado countson a herd of Buffaloes and Oregon a dynamic duo of Ducks.
No fewer than six running backs could loom large in Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl.
Third-ranked Colorado uses four tailbacks in an offense that ranks eighthnationally in rushing at 228.5 yards per game. Three of them - Chris Brown,Cortlen Johnson and Bobby Purify - have at least three 100-plus-yard gamesthis season. A groin injury early this season sidelined redshirt freshmanMarcus Houston, who had a 16-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State.
'We're just in a situation where we have four really good backs and we'renot redshirting any of them,' Colorado coach Gary Barnett said. 'We havefour guys who have worked really hard, have fit our system and have all hadhot days. I don't think we have any more running backs than any other team,we just play more of them,'
Second-ranked Oregon built its reputation on passing, but this season'sDucks have two 1,000-yard rushers - Maurice Morris (1,010) and OnterrioSmith (1,031).
'They took more pressure off me than I've ever experienced,' quarterbackJoey Harrington said. 'Having two 1,000-yard rushers behind me has put me ina position where I don't have to make plays all the time. It was terrificgoing out there and knowing I wasn't going to have to wing it every time.'
Operating behind an offensive line that might be the best in collegefootball, Colorado rushed for 380 yards in its 62-36 shocker over Nebraska,then gained 223 the following week in a 39-37 victory over Texas in the Big12 title game.
In both victories, Brown led the way. He rushed for 198 yards and a schoolrecord six touchdowns against Nebraska, then gained 182 yards and scoredthree touchdowns against Texas.
'Our rotation of running backs kept us all fresh,' Brown said, 'so we allkeep doing what we do and we're not really hurt at the end of the season.'
Johnson, the only senior among the four, said players had to put their egosaside, whether they liked the multi-back system or not.
'At the beginning of the season, it was tough because any running back wantsto be the man, wants to be that guy that carries the ball 20 to 25 times,'Johnson said. 'But we realized all four of us were going to play, and whoplayed the most depended on what type of game you were having.
'As the season has gone along, we've become, I guess you'd say committed, toknowing that the other three guys are going to play, and you know whenyou're number is called you have to go out and makes plays.'
The Ducks have made no secret that they plan to load at least eight playersup front to try to stop the run and force the Buffaloes to throw.
'You can see it on the film. They load up the box in the Pac-10,' Coloradoquarterback Bobby Pesavento said. 'We're a great running football team, andthey're going to do it to us. We're going to have to throw a little bitmore.'
In recent seasons, Oregon has had a strong running back, but that back hasbeen worn down by injuries late in the season. Last year, Morris played inall 12 games but was slowed by, among other things, bruised ribs, a soreshoulder, a sprained toe and a lacerated hand. With Smith transferring fromTennessee, Morris no longer had to be the workhorse.
'The great thing for us this year is we would sit Maurice down and rest himand Onterrio would step in, or vice versa, and they were hungry, they werefresh, they were healthy,' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. 'We had a greattailback on the field the entire time.'
The mix of running and passing makes the Ducks especially difficult todefend, especially with Harrington - the Pac-10 offensive player of the yearand a Heisman Trophy finalist - at the controls.
'It's very difficult,' Buffaloes strong safety Michael Lewis said. 'If youkey on stopping the run, all of a sudden he's finding the tight end or thewide receiver down the field. Like we've been stressing, `Just take yourresponsibility. If you've got the running backs do it. If you're on thereceivers, do your job.''