SEC teams relying heavily on new backs

BY foxsports • September 15, 2010

Youngsters are taking over Southeastern Conference backfields.

When games have been up for grabs, the ball has been in the hands of players like South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Auburn's Michael Dyer.

Of the league's top 10 rushers, only Florida's Jeffrey Demps and Kentucky's Derrick Locke led their teams in rushing last season.

''The running back spot is a place where a young player can play'' if they have the talent and durability, LSU coach Les Miles said. ''If they are an elusive or physical runner, both those styles of guys can play.''

That was certainly evident last weekend.

- The freshman: Lattimore carried 37 times for 182 yards in a win over Georgia.

- The super sub: Sophomore Trent Richardson, who was already a rising star, pounded his way to 144 yards against Penn State while Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was recovering from knee surgery.

- The backups-turned-rising stars: LSU's Stevan Ridley and Tennessee's Tauren Poole are juniors taking advantage of their chances to shine.

In South Carolina, Lattimore appears ready to be the offensive go-to guy and seems poised to turn Steve Spurrier into a run-first coach.

''That's what I am used to,'' the highly touted back said. ''I've done it in high school. It's just being a running back. You get all the carries and try to help the team in any way.''

All for a coach many told Lattimore during the recruiting process wouldn't give him many carries.

''Everybody was telling me, 'You'll never run the ball here, you'll never run the ball a lot here,''' Lattimore said.

One thing has become evident in the first couple of weeks: SEC coaches have stockpiled talented runners. Lattimore and Dyer were the consensus top running back recruits in the country, and they haven't disappointed.

Alabama's Richardson has carried the load for the past two weeks, but now he's preparing to share it with Ingram once again Saturday at Duke.

''I'm very excited he came back,'' Richardson said. ''I (texted) him, 'Glad to have you back, big bro.' There's nothing like having him in the backfield.''

Except maybe having both of them.

''We don't have a thunder and lightning one-two punch, we have kind of thunder and thunder,'' Tide center William Vlachos said.

At Auburn, coach Gene Chizik could be ready to make Dyer his primary back. Dyer has averaged 6.2 yards on 23 carries and ran three times when the Tigers were trying to run the clock down and preserve a 17-14 win at Mississippi State.

''He's ready for his role to expand, there's no question about it,'' Chizik said. ''Us as coaches believe in him and trust in him that if that's what his role becomes this week, he can handle it.''

Dyer was proud of coming through in his crunch time role.

''When it's big-time, it's kind of like, 'Wow, what are you going to do with it?''' he said. ''I just wanted to go out there and protect the ball and do what I can for the team and help us win the game.''

Sophomore Onterrio McCalebb has only two fewer carries than Dyer and a 6.9-yard average. But he faces questions about his size (5-foot-10, 171 pounds) and durability while Dyer is a sturdier 5-9, 215 pounds. Quarterback Cam Newton, a junior college transfer, is the SEC's No. 2 rusher but Chizik wants his tailbacks to finish as the team's top runners. All three are in the Top 10.

At Tennessee, Poole tops the league with 272 yards on 40 carries in two games. He finished last season with 12 runs for 86 yards behind Montario Hardesty.

''It is easy for me to tell you, 'I told you so,' but that is not what I'm trying to prove,'' Poole said. ''I am just trying to win football games. I always knew I had the ability, and I just had to show it. When I got my opportunity I was going to make the most of it.''

Volunteers coach Derek Dooley raves about Poole not for his talent but for getting the most out of it.

''He's taken advantage of his opportunity as well as anybody,'' Dooley said. ''And if everybody on our team had the competitive character and the personal character that Tauren Poole has, we'd have a heck of a little squad. He's a special guy. When I say special, I don't mean that God has blessed him with all this ability.

''He is to me exactly what every competitor should strive for, and that's to play to your capacity as a player. And Tauren's playing to his capacity.''

LSU's Ridley also has already outdistanced his performance from last year, with 240 yards.

He came fairly close to last year's total of 180 yards in the fourth quarter alone against Vanderbilt, when he gained 118 and had a 65-yard touchdown run. Ridley bided his time for his starting shot, but he's not surprised at the league's bounty of young backs.

''The young talent, that's the SEC,'' he said. ''It's arguably the strongest conference in college football and when you have that much talent, you really just have to get the ball in your athletes' hands.''

Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell agrees, relying on sophomores Warren Norman and Zac Stacy.

''We've got to get our best players on the field,'' Caldwell said.


AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La.; Teresa Walker in Nashville; Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., and Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

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