If you look at college football today, you see it has become more of a passing game. Running backs are more used on short yardage situations instead of grinding out on long drives.
But a handful of Sun Belt Conference running backs put up big numbers on Saturday, and while they all didn’t lead to wins, it did show that the SBC has a stable of good halfbacks that can control the flow of a game.
The best performance of the day had to be New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III, who ran for 260 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns against New Mexico, with scoring runs from 63, 67 and 51 yards out. Rose had 206 yards by halftime, but the Lobos found a way to keep him quiet in the second half as the Aggies fell to their in-state rival, 38-29.
Rose’s effort was betrayed by NMSU’s defense, which gave up 401 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Aggies remain winless this season as their defense continues to be one of the worst in the nation.
Meanwhile, Arkansas State saw its running back also reach the 200-yard plateau on Saturday, as Michael Gordon had 221 yards on 26 carries with three touchdowns as the Red Wolves beat Idaho 49-35. Gordon stepped up with touchdown runs from 59, 15 and 10 yards to lift ASU, which is still without its main playmaker, quarterback Fredi Knighten, who is sidelined with a groin injury.
Gordon’s output is a pleasant surprise for Arkansas State, who is searching for someone to make big plays until Knighten is back and healthy. The only caveat to this is that it came against Idaho, which isn’t a strong defensive team.
One running back who has put out a consistent effort day in and day out is Marcus Cox for Appalachian State. He has his seventh-straight 100-yard game as he ran for 178 yards in the Mountaineers’ 31-13 win over Wyoming. Cox had a 59-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the game to set the tone for the day.
Cox has proved to be a workhorse for the App State offense, which needed a big game from him since the passing game was nonexistent for the day with only 65 yards.
Right behind Cox, you can put Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida as the most consistent running back in the SBC. Breida had 149 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns to lead the Eagles past Louisiana-Monroe, 51-31.
Breida was part of an Eagle rushing attack that racked up 455 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground against the Warhawks. Head coach Willie Fritz has probably the most feared offense in the SBC, and right now, there’s no team in the conference that has an answer to stop it.
You also can throw Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire as one of the most dangerous running backs in the conference, but he has been neutralized the last two games as a result of a struggling passing attack. McGuire was held to only 84 yards on 12 carries as the Ragin’ Cajuns were blown out by Louisiana Tech, 43-14, on Saturday.
Although McGuire showed his versatility with six receptions for 70 yards – including a 49-yard touchdown catch – ULL has to find someone to take the pressure and attention off of him to have a big performance. That means the Cajuns need some consistency at quarterback to make some passes.
Expect most of these running backs to continue to put up big numbers as the season progresses as conference play gets into full swing.