The Brigham Young Cougars running backs will try to break a few trends in 2012.
2. 100-yard Rushing Game. Despite coming close a couple of times, no Cougar ball carrier reached 100-yards rushing in a game last year. It was the first time since 1995.
3. 1,000-yard Rusher. For the second consecutive season, BYU did not have a 1,000 yard rusher. From 2005-09, a BYU running back reached 1,000 yards. If no Cougar gets 1,000 this year, it will match BYU’s longest streak without a 1,000 yard rusher in the last 20 years.
Junior Michael Alisa and junior Joshua “Juice” Quezada are expected to get the bulk of the carries this season. Alisa is expected to start the season as the primary ball carrier. Should everything remain status quo all year, I see a 60-40 or 65-35 split for carries between Alisa and Quezada.
Alisa was the surprise rusher during 2011. He played linebacker as a freshman in 2008, but switched to offense after his two-year mission. His role was expected to be that of a fullback. Looking for a spark to the run game, Alisa got a chance to carry the ball in game six against San Jose State. He rushed for 91 yards on 16 carries, which was the best rushing performance, to date, by a BYU running back. At season’s end, Alisa was second on the team with 455 yards and a 5.4 yards per carry average.
Quezada had a disappointing 2011 season with just 298 yards on 86 carries. Head and ankle injuries limited his effectiveness all season. “Juice” looks to regain his freshman form where he had 505 yards on 99 carries and rushed for over 100 yards in a game twice. During spring, Quezada’s health appeared fine, and he seemed poised to redeem himself.
Adam Hine and Jamaal Williams, two freshmen, will try to impress the coaches any way they can to earn as much time on the field as possible. Hine redshirted in 2011 after serving a two year mission straight out of high school. He had 6 carries for 17 yards in the spring game. Williams may end up redshirting to create some more separation between he and the pair of juniors, and because he is younger than your typical college freshman.
For the first time since Manase Tonga graduated in 2009, BYU appears to have a true fullback. Back from a broken leg suffered in fall camp a year ago, Iona Pritchard, 6-foot and 240 pounds, is being counted on to bring an element of power blocking and running that has been missing. Rugby star Paul Lasike will be another body in the backfield helping to create holes and protect the passer. Both players are sophomores.
Can one of these six rush for 100 yards in a single game? What about cracking the 1,000 yard barrier? At Media Day, Alisa said the running back that will have a 100-yard rushing game first will be the one who wants it the most. The correct answer to both these questions might have more to do with the quarterback than the running backs. Riley Nelson will get his share of designed run plays. How much will that take away from the running backs during the course of a game and over the entire season? It shouldn’t be enough to prevent a running back from having at least one 100-yard rushing game, but it could keep the team’s leading rusher below 1,000 yards for the season.