Last season: Last season the running game was very obviously dominated by Quarterback, Lamar Jackson. He dominated the ground to a tune of 1601 yards, while the leading 5 running backs after him only accounted for 1418 yards. Although that stat is seemingly damning to the unit, Louisville’s offense was clearly at its best when Lamar had the ball, so the coaches very wisely gave it to him, a lot.
Though the reps weren’t quite there for the running backs, they did well when the ball was in their hands. Reggie Bonnafon led the running backs with 459 yards on 93 carries (4.9 yards per carry) with 7 touchdowns. Fellow senior, Malik Williams showed spurts of excitement with 531 yards on 67 carries (7.9 yards per carry) with 4 touchdowns. Then came the miracle man, Dae Williams.
Dae had torn his ACL early in the offseason and somehow worked his way to recovery in record time to show us all what we will see this season. He only saw meaningful snaps in 3 games last year and finished with 38 carries for 235 yards (6.2 yards per carry) with 3 touchdowns as a freshman. Then, there was freshman, Colin Wilson who burst onto the scene with some explosive runs and averaged 11.5 yards per carry on 6 carries before he suffered a season ending leg injury. Add Trey Smith (21 carries for 124 yards) to the equation and entering this season, the Cards have a three-headed monster at running back.
This season: The running back unit will likely be headlined by Dae Williams at the start of the year. The sophomore showed his ability as a power runner last season and really made the most of the snaps he saw. Williams speedy recovery from a torn ACL should tell you all you need to know about what kind of player he is. Colin Wilson exploded onto the scene with his downhill running-style that also featured blazing speed in open space. Like Williams, Wilson is also a sophomore and had he not been injured last season shortly after his emergence, we would’ve seen more of what he can do. Trey Smith came to Louisville as a Wide Receiver, but after his redshirt season he was moved to running back. Like the other two in this group, his action was limited last season, but he made the most of it.
Assuming he doesn’t redshirt, keep an eye out for freshman Javian Hawkins. Hawkins has been receiving reps in practice and could see his number called in a year where the position battle should be open.
Outlook: The running game after Lamar Jackson has been one of the biggest talking points this offseason. Like I pointed out, the number of reps just wasn’t there, but when the opportunities presented themselves, the guys took advantage of them. Lamar Jackson is the most electric player to ever play college football. But, his departure allows Bobby Petrino to go back to his old style and scheme. Louisville has three horses at running back and will run all three of them in probably every game, feeding the hot guy as they see fit. This unit will also be relied on to take pressure of Puma Pass. This might be the most important unit on the team this year. If Louisville can establish a running game, Pass will have a lot less pressure on him when it comes time to throw.
I’m confident these guys will make us proud this season.