It’s not often that you go into the football season and honestly have no idea who will be the main guy at the running back position. After two games, we still are not at that point. We have all heard it and I do agree to an extent, it’s hard to judge and find out much when you face Alabama and when you play in the weather conditions from last week against Indiana State. I get all of that. But at some point, someone must step up and be the next big-time running back for the Cards. If it doesn’t happen, teams will just begin to sell out on the pass rush, making things even more difficult for this team on offense.
The last time that Louisville had a 1,000-yard rusher not named Lamar Jackson? It was Bilal Powell in 2010. He rushed for 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns. Never mind the 1,000-yard mark. There has only been one player (again, not named Lamar) to even crack 900 yards since then, and that was Brandon Radcliff in 2016 with 903 yards.
Thinking back to Bobby Petrino’s first stint at UofL, it seemed like there was always a stable of two or three guys that could come in and get the job done. That opened up the passing game, leading to points. A lot of points. In his four years, there was only one 1,000-yard rusher. But there were always one or two guys that were approaching that mark. So, if you combined the top two rushers, they cleared 1,000 yards easily. Let’s quickly look back at those four years and who led the team in rushing…
2003 – Lionel Gates (817 yards) and Eric Shelton (790 yards)
2004 – Eric Shelton (938 yards) and Michael Bush (734 yards)
2005 – Michael Bush (1,143 yards)
2006 – Kolby Smith 862 yards
Is there a guy, or guys, on this year’s team that we can put on a list like that one day? If so, it will have to be someone that makes a name for themselves, because there is not one name that jumps out as an obvious choice. So, who could be that guy?
Jeremy Smith – I just said there is not an obvious name that jumps out, and that’s true. But if anyone emerges and can carry the load, I think it can be Smith. After sitting out against Alabama, he was one of the lone bright spots on offense against a dreadful Indiana State team last week with six rushes for 56 yards, an average of 9.3 yards per carry. But in his best season in 2016, he still only rushed for 382 yards. As we know, there was also Lamar Jackson and Brandon Radcliff. But I am just pointing out that while I say he could be that guy, it’s not like we have a season of proof in numbers to know it. Even in that season, aside from a 14-carry game, the most rushes he had in a single game was eight.
Colin Wilson – Wilson currently leads the team with 58 yards rushing. Not an ideal number as we enter week three. The redshirt freshman played in two games last season before going down with a knee injury, registering six carries for 69 yards. If he can get things going, it will at least set the Cards up to have a solid running back for the next couple of years.
Dae Williams – Here is a redshirt sophomore who played in six games last year after tearing his ACL in April of 2017. As someone who has torn their ACL in each knee, I did not think there was any way he would be back last season, let alone be able to contribute. The fact that he did shows me that if given the opportunity, maybe Williams can be one of the guys. It would mean a major turnaround from the first two games of this season, as he as seven yards on 10 carries. Yikes. He only had one carry against Indiana State, and had nine against Alabama that went for six yards. They do that to teams, but that can’t always be the excuse. That’s several opportunities to only rack up six yards. Petrino has shown before that if you are not performing how he wants you to, you will not see the field. Remember Dominique Brown? His carries dropped dramatically in 2014 after the season opener against Miami. There were five games where he did not even play. If Dae gets more opportunities, he has to make the most of them.
Trey Smith – The redshirt junior was injured during the Alabama game and did not play last week against Indiana State. Against ‘Bama, he had 11 yards on four carries. His best game last season came against Murray State, where he had 11 carries for 67 yards.
Hassan Hall – True freshman from Atlanta has shown his speed on the long kickoff return against Alabama. As far as this particular topic, he has six rushes for 23 yards this season. I don’t see him passing everyone up to be the man at running back this season, but he could definitely make some big plays with his speed and quickness.
Mekhi Becton – The big fella is averaging a touchdown per carry. Give him the rock.
Where does that leave us? Hopefully some questions get answered on Saturday night. No, we won’t know everything after a game against Western Kentucky. But maybe one of these guys has a 100-yard game and establishes himself as the lead back and we start to get some kind of identity from this position. Or two guys combine for 180 yards and four rushing touchdowns and we then know who the two-headed backfield will be. Between Jeremy Smith, Colin Wilson, and Dae Williams, I feel like two of those guys will step up and one could be the odd man out. Which two? I really don’t know. My heart wants to say that Jeremy Smith will be one of them. For no other reason than him being a veteran and me trusting him more than the others for now.
One thing is for sure. If we are still having this discussion heading into games against Virginia, Florida State, and Georgia Tech, that offensive line better be good at Pass-protecting (pun intended) because we will be throwing the ball 50 times per game.