2013 Running back preview: Depth not an issue

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With the installment of offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s new “Go Fast, Go Hard” offense, BYU’s running back depth will be even more critical this football season than in past seasons.

BYU running back Michael Alisa cheers with the BYU fans after a road victory. Photo by Luke Hansen
BYU running back Michael Alisa cheers with the BYU fans after a road victory. Photo by Luke Hansen

BYU started last season with Michael Alisa as the starter and finished the season with Jamaal Williams starting. Alisa was the feature back until he suffered a forearm injury against Hawaii in late September. From that point, Williams became the undisputed feature back. As a true freshman, Williams ran for 775 yards on 166 carries for 12 touchdowns, all BYU true-freshman records.

Despite Williams’ breakout season and Alisa’s experience, running backs coach Mark Atuaia isn’t ready to name either one the undisputed, go-to feature back.

“As far as naming one guy, there really is nobody there yet, everyone is going to have to battle that out and we’ll see who emerges at the end of two-a-days,” Atuaia said.

Both Alisa and Williams were recently named to the 2013 Doak Walker Award watch list along with 63 other backs throughout the country. The Doak Walker Award is awarded annually to the nation’s top running back.

Coming into the 2013 season, BYU has a bevy of running backs. The position is one of the deepest BYU has had in a while, and that depth brings high expectations.

“Where much is given much is required,” Atuaia said. “I know what’s expected of us in that we’ve got to produce.”

BYU’s rushing attack has slowly declined in total yards over the past three seasons, from 2,461 in 2010 to 2,397 in 2011 and to 2,346 in 2012, the lowest it has been since 2009. BYU has run a pass-oriented offense as of late; in 2009, the Cougars pass for over 3,600 yards, compared to a mere 1,894 rushing yards. This season, the team looks to be more balanced and more effective in the run game.

Much like the quarterback position, multiple players are vying for significant touches and chances to prove they deserve time on the field. BYU has six running backs fighting for field action: Jamaal Williams, Michael Alisa, Adam Hine, Paul Lasike, Nate Carter and Iona Pritchard. The competition is strong but that is not preventing the players from being good friends and pushing their teammates to be the best.

“Everyone pushes each other, we all recognize with everyone being good makes everyone better. You being good doesn’t cut into my pie, it makes the whole pie bigger,” Alisa said.

Everyone brings a different element to the run game and different strengths.

“Jamaal’s strength is his speed and agility and he has good hands in the backfield,” said Alisa, who is entering his final season as a Cougar. “Adam is just a big, strong, hard nose runner with big strides. He won’t really juke you out, but he’ll truck you. Nate Carter, we call him “Nate weight,” he just throws his weight around, literally, in the weight room. He’s the strongest guy on the team, pound for pound. … Iona Pritchard, fullback, he’s just one of those guys you tell to run into a brick wall and he’ll go break a hole in it without even thinking. So just a lot of talent and diversity on the team. Paul Lasike, who runs like a rugby player and runs over people like a rugby player. He has the tree trunk legs. So yeah, we’re a pretty well-rounded group.”

It’s a new offense for everyone and the competition at each position has not stopped players from helping each other through the transition.

“We learn at our own pace and if someone doesn’t know something we help each other out with it. Everybody comes out equal,” Williams said. “You may not know the plays as much, but if you go out there and give your best on every play and don’t lollygag you’re more likely to play anyway. They care about effort and going fast more right now than executing the plays.”

Going into the season, it appears Williams and Alisa will likely get the majority of the carries. But Adam Hine and Paul Lasike will push them for more touches as the season progesses. If BYU is able to run 90-100 plays a game, as coach Anae would like, there will be plenty of touches to go around and chances for players to have a positive impact on games.

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