2020 Position Previews: Running Backs
The running backs and running game enter the 2020 season as a potential wild card. This is a position group that must improve but also has a reasonable chance to surprise to the upside.
There were glaring issues last season such as not playing the best players at WR and ILB and wasting practice reps on guys who would never play. These coaching boners overshadowed what was the worst run game in the Petersen era.
Since 2016, the rushing offense has atrophied.
Take a look at the statistics in the graph below.
Yards per carry, and explosive runs of +10 and +20 yards all hit their low marks for the Petersen era. Each stat declined precipitously from 2018.
Ironically, Salvon Ahmed was probably under appreciated last year.
Three of his four best games were against USC, Cal and Oregon. In those three games he ran for 412 yards on 62 carries and 3 TDs. That’s an average of 6.6 yards per carry and 137 yards per game. He ran well enough for UW to win those games. Statistically, Ahmed had the 5th most yards but the 3rd highest yards per carry of bell-cow type of backs in the Pac-12.
A key difference in the run game in 2019 was there was no second threat in terms of explosive runs.
Richard Newton was good in short-yardage situations but was subpar at producing many +10 yard runs. In league play he had 66 carries but only 4 +10 yard runs and no +20 yard runs. Sean McGrew had only 25 carries in league play but produced 3 +10 yard runs. Newton only averaged 3.47 yards per carry in league play.
Here are the advanced stats from Max Vrooman courtesy of UWDawgpound.
As the 2020 season beckons, redshirt freshman Cameron Davis figures to play a big role.
Davis was a 4-star recruit out of Upland, California as part of the 2019 class. He had a number of impressive highlights and was a favorite of BDTW recruiting gurus.
Last season Davis showed promise on a very limited sample size. He had 2 carries against Oregon and 2 against Boise St. Against Oregon he ran for a 7-yard gain. He appeared to run over a defender on his next carry, but it was called back. Against Boise St he ran for a 23-yard touchdown but it was also called back.
At 6’0 and 205 lbs, Davis has a very nice blend of size, speed, strength and natural instincts. His smooth style reminds some of Bishop Sankey.
It’s clear that Davis and Newton will get the bulk of the carries with Sean McGrew being the third option and at times, the 3rd down back.
The outside expectation is the Washington run game will be okay and led by Newton who could become an All-Pac-12 back. Both Athlon and Jon Wilner picked him as preseason 2nd-Team All-Pac 12. No one on the outside is aware of Davis’ potential.
Outside observers are not expecting much here and that’s part of the reason UW was picked 6th in the league by the writers. The run game figures to improve but by how much is the question?
Newton must be more than a short yardage back and Davis must hit the ground running. Newton must improve at extending runs and Davis needs to get enough carries to show his potential.
These things are not out of the question. It’s an issue of are they more likely to happen this season or in the 2021 season. If they happen this season then it will help UW seriously challenge for the league title.
It’s a master of the obvious statement but in the past 5 years, teams with a strong run game (good 1-2 punch or the best back) and strong defense have won or challenged for the league title.