Buffs Position Preview: Wealth Of Talent In Running Back Room
BOULDER — Safe to say, the Colorado Buffaloes have a wealth of talent at running back this year.
They have last year's Pac-12 leading rusher and Offensive Player of the Year, Jarek Broussard, who burst onto the scene with 895 yards and five touchdowns in six games, finishing third in the nation with a 149.2 average.
They have Alex Fontenot, the Buffs' leading rusher in 2019, when he rushed for 874 yards and five touchdowns.
And, they have a host of relatively untested but talented youngsters angling for their shot, including Ashaad Clayton (31 yards, two TDs in just three games last year), Joe Davis (37 yards last season), Jayle Stacks (a versatile back who can play fullback as well) and Deion Smith (returning from a knee injury).
But the number that stands out the most from last season? Try team rushing yards per game, a robust 212.3 — third-best in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation. The last time CU averaged more than 200 yards per game on the ground was 2002, when Chris Brown and Bobby Purify helped Colorado average 241.2 per game.
Now, the trick will be to see if the Buffs can maintain that average over a 12-game regular season.
"I loved the way we ran the football," CU offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said of last season. "If you can go over 200 a game in this conference consistently, you're going to win football games."
But one 2020 number that will almost certainly drop this year is Broussard's average carries per game. With Fontenot out for the entire season with an injury and CU's young players still learning the system, Broussard averaged 26 carries per game. Even in a six-game season, that workload took its toll, and it's almost a certainty that Broussard's carries per game will be reduced.
"It would have been hard for him to have that load the whole year — he wouldn't have been able to do it,'" Chiaverini said. "Having Alex back is huge, getting Ashaad Clayton going is big. Jayle Stacks is showing up in camp. I really believe we've done a good job developing that room. (RB coach Darian Hagan) has done a good job with them. There's going to be rotation; there's going to be guys getting touches."
But, given what's transpired thus far in camp, Broussard still looks to have the edge on being the No. 1 back. He's shed his knee braces, and as a result, looks to have improved in the crucial areas for a back: speed, quickness and acceleration.
Still, it won't be a surprise to see Fontenot, Clayton and others have their numbers called more consistently.
POSITION COACH — Darian Hagan has quietly become one of the most consistent and productive running back coaches in the nation. In two different stints at CU he has helped produce four 1,000-yard rushers (Hugh Charles, Rodney Stewart, Phillip Lindsay and Travon McMillian), and almost certainly would have added a fifth to the ledger last year had the Buffs played a full schedule.
Now, he has a room full of talent, and it will be interesting to see how he utilizes each player.
KEY RETURNEES — The list no doubt starts with Broussard, the best running back in the Pac-12 last year. Also returning are Alex Fontenot and Ashaad Clayton, two backs who could see some significant carries. Others who could be factors include Joe Davis, Jayle Stacks and Deion Smith.
KEY NEWCOMERS — The Buffs did not add a running back in the offseason.
IF ALL GOES WELL … Broussard will have another outstanding season, and he'll get help carrying the load from some combination of Fontenot, Clayton and the others.
The most important number will be overall production. Finding ways to spread out the carries and keep fresh legs in the game shouldn't be difficult. But the key will be if the Buffs can match their production of a year ago and maintain it for a 12-game regular season — and whatever comes after that.
If the Buffs can average in the 190 to 200 yards per game area, it will mean they are controlling the clock and tempo — and that will be a boost to CU's defense as well.