Don’t look now, but the Miami Hurricanes, in classic Mark Richt style, are developing a formidable running game. Yes, the Canes have one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC in Brad Kaaya, but the run game is developing a complete Miami offense.
Sophomore Mark Walton is leading that charge. Along with running mate Joe Yearby, he is forming a dimension of Miami’s offense which is becoming as feared as the right arm of the Canes’ lauded quarterback.
Walton led the Canes last season with 10 touchdowns and in last Saturday’s 38-10 victory over FAU became the first Miami player since 2005 to score four touchdowns in a game. It was just the sixth time in program history for a back to rush for four touchdowns in a game.
He rushed for a career-high 155 yards in that game and has gone over the century mark in both games this season, averaging 135.5 yards in two games.
Yearby has also surpassed the 100-yard mark in both games this season and averages 113 rushing yards while accumulating three rushing touchdowns so far. It’s the first time since 2014 that the Canes had running backs go 100-plus yards in back-to-back games.
But Walton is giving all the credit to an experienced and improving offensive line that received much criticism last season.
“I’m trusting my o-line,” Walton said. “Believing in them, trusting them, trusting my reads, hitting my holes well and just running.”
That’s a simplified explanation for the success of both running backs, but Walton has shown an ability to cut back against the grain and spin off defenders to find open space.
Richt’s offense at Georgia was heavily run-oriented, and he’s bringing that toughness to South Florida. It’s a viable option and pressure-release valve for Kaaya, who has shouldered much of the offense in his first two seasons at The U.
“It’s special for [Richt] to call our number in certain situations, for him to be able to trust me, Joe, all the running backs. No matter what the situation is, we go out there and run the ball hard and just do what we do in practice,” Walton said.
Richt is liking what he’s seeing so far from both Walton and Yearby.
“[Walton’s] very physical,” Richt said. “Yearby does a super job of making people miss and breaking tackles. They’re both really tough, physical runners.”
Walton’s contributions are not lost on Miami’s signal-caller and leader on offense the last two years.
“He just plays with a lot of passion and heart,” Kaaya said. “He has done it even since he got back in the summer. Just watching him work out, watching him practice – he just shows up every day and gets after it.”
The two will be huge factors on Saturday when the Canes hit the road for the first time this season. They’ll face an Appalachian State team that has already this season taken to overtime a Tennessee team which was the preseason choice to win the SEC East Division.