BYU football has turned to its freshmen running backs because of injuries that have dwindled its running depth.
“I am just making sure that with the guys that are there, I am putting them in the right spots for them to do the right things for our offense,” said running back coach Mark Atuaia.
Adam Hine emerged as the hero at running back this year leading BYU with 312 rushing yards. Even though Hine is injured, fans don’t have to worry because Algernon Brown is back to take the lead at running back. Brown will need help, which is why freshmen running backs Francis Bernard and Riley Burt have joined the ranks to help carry the ball. The involvement of the two freshmen running backs will depend on what they can do according to Atuaia.
Bernard got his first carries against Michigan, but had a more notable role in the 30-13 win against the University of Connecticut on Friday, Oct. 2. He helped the Cougars score their first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run up the middle. That score was a catalyst in getting the Cougar offense going in that game.
“He’s a great addition to the rotation, considering the number of backs we’ve cycled through this year,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said post-game after the UConn game. “We knew coming out of fall camp that he was a physical and talented player.”
Bernard is looking like he will continue to be a big contributor to the BYU run game throughout the rest of the season. Atuaia said he is a lively firecracker and with the absence of so many experienced running backs, the Cougar offense will need a running back who brings a lot of energy to the offensive game.
“It was fun to see Francis breaking runs up the middle,” Brown said post-game after the UConn game. “I was impressed seeing him make his cut-and-go moves.”
Brown said before the East Carolina game that Bernard is a better back than he is. Bernard helped add 60 rushing yards to the 197 total yards of rushing offense against Cincinnati. He also ran the ball for 69 yards in the Cougars fourth quarter win against UCONN.
Burt will start to be utilized more like his freshman counterpart as long has he can stay healthy. Burt had a big 41-yard run against Cincinnati. He was injured after that big run and his status is unknown for now.
“He reminds me a lot of a young Adam Hine,” Atuaia said. “He is very athletic, quick, and a downhill runner.”
Burt is a freshman out of Mantua, Utah, and was recruited by BYU at the beginning of 2015. He was given a three-star rating by ESPN.com coming out of high school and had over 1,000 rushing yards in his senior season. He will be another great addition to the running back lineup bringing good size and quickness when he runs the ball.
Brown said Burt is doing a good job of knowing what to do when he goes into the game. He had 48 yards on only two carries in the Cougars win against Cincinnati. It looks like he might see more of his playing time as a kick returner right after being in for multiple kickoffs against ECU.
The potential of the BYU run game is still unknown, but with the help of Bernard, Burt and an experienced Brown, it is in a good place going into the rest of the season.