The new offensive era
Arlington, Texas - Gone is Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, and Zac Robinson. The new stars of the Big 12 are running backs, as the nation's top three leading rushers after week one are from Big 12 teams.
As programs reload at quarterback around the league, offensive coordinators are quickly transitioning from pass happy offenses to hard nose pounding football.
Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, and Kansas State's Daniel Thomas are examples of the new product. The three all went over the 200 yard mark on Saturday. The Big 12 has only seen three, 200 yard performances in the last two years before last week.
Using the ground game might not always be as exciting for the fans, but teams play to their strengths.
As teams from around the Big 12 enter week two of play tomorrow, expect much of the same.
Back to old tricks
The buzz around Stillwater this summer was that Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter was back to his old self.
As a junior last season, Hunter was supposed to be on a short-list of All-American candidates. His season never really took off. He suffered an ankle/foot injury that not only forced him to miss time, but caused him discomfort much of the year as he tried to play through it.
Hunter made a statement on Saturday against Washington State...he's 100% healthy and pain free.
The senior rushed for 257 yards on 21 carries, finding the end zone four times. You can call it reunion with the goal line.
Oklahoma State might have lost Robinson and Dez Bryant, but they appear to be in good hands with the nation's leading rusher up to this point.
“Kendall really likes to play football. Some guys at our level play the game, but they don't really love to play the game. Kendall loves to play football. It's important to him,” said OSU head coach Mike Gundy. “When he didn't get the opportunity to do it last year, he's been very excited about playing this year. That works in our favor and it works in his favor.
“I'm not afraid to say that if Kendall stays healthy he will play this game a long time because he can make you miss, he doesn't run his mouth, he plays football for the right reasons and he's a tough guy so he'll play a long time.”
With games against Troy, Tulsa, and Louisiana the next three out of four weeks, don't expect Hunter to fall out of the top spot in the nation when it comes to yards.
Workhorse in Norman
It wouldn't be surprising to learn that Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray's legs fell off this week.
The senior ran the ball 35 times last Saturday against Utah State, racking up 218 yards and two touchdowns in the process.
While the local and national media focus on the fact that Oklahoma barely squeaked by the Aggies, the real focus should be on the amount of carries the coaching staff gave the back. Murray's durability has been an issue in the past.
"We're counting on him to have a big year," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. "He's got great experience, so hopefully we can give him the opportunity of a few more snaps, a few more carries and a few more touches even out of the backfield to give him opportunities for those big plays."
Murray only had three instances where he took a carry over10 yards, but it was the timing when he did it that made him speculator in week one.
On OU's first possession of the game, he ripped off a 39-yard carry to set up a Sooners' touchdown.
After Utah State took the momentum in the 3rd quarter, pulling the game within four points, he torched the Aggies defense on a 69-yard touchdown run.
The senior definitely looks like he is ready to carry some of the load left by Sam Bradford, but will he stay healthy? That remains to be seen.
The most impressive performance?
Hunter had more yards and touchdowns. Murray had more carries. But, it was Kansas State's Daniel Thomas who might have looked the most impressive in week one.
Thomas was matched up with a solid UCLA defense, but burned the Bruins for 235 yards and two touchdowns in a Wildcats 31-22 victory.
How does a guy follow up a year where he led the Big 12 in rushing? He comes out in the first game of a new season and has career highs in yards and carries.
"I can't explain it," UCLA defensive end Nate Chandler told ESPN Los Angeles. "Everything we studied is what they did. They didn't do any trickery. We knew what was coming.”
Maybe Thomas is that good.
"Teams are going to focus on me a little more because of the success I had last year," Thomas said. "I feel I can have a better season after working hard in the off season. I think that's going to help me a lot......It was good, I didn't even know I had that many (yards) until after the game.”
A junior college quarterback before arriving at K-State last year, the Wildcats had different plans for him.
With only one year of experience at the running back position under his belt, the future should be bright for the 22-year old.
Thomas went 19th in my Big 12/ACC college fantasy football league. Looks like I missed out there.
The more the better
Going into the season, Texas head coach Mack Brown vowed to give the running backs more of an opportunity in the offense.
First the Longhorns are breaking in a new quarterback for the first time in four years. Second, Texas was exposed in the National Title game last season for not being able to run the ball.
Cody Johnson might have been named the starter at running back for UT in week one, but it was Tre' Newton who stole the spotlight.
The son of former Dallas Cowboy guard Nate Newton, Tre had 18 carries for 61 yards and three scores. A yards per average not exactly good enough to write home about, but fans have to take his production in consideration.
“This is the first time since '05 that we had three running backs in a game gain over 50 yards. We thought all three running backs played well,” said Brown. “Offensively we stayed pretty simple. It's amazing in a first game not to have any fumbles.....That may be the first time we've ever done that. We're proud of the guys for doing that.”
So fans are left scratching their heads. Has Texas really went from putting the ball in their quarterback's hands all the time, to turning around and giving it to a running back?
At least for now.
Newton led the charge, but starter Johnson pitched in 15 carries for 59 yards. Even junior 3rd down back Foswhitt Whittaker got into the cause, rushing for 51 yards on nine carries.
Solid enough to get things done
Texas A&M made it a point to use their backs early and often in a Stephen F. Austin blowout. Christine Michael, Ryan Swope, and Cyrus Gray combined for 43 carries and 210 yards.
Iowa State's Alexander Robinson, arguably one of the Big 12's most underrated ball carriers, rushed for 97 yards and two scores in a 27-10 win over Northern Illinois.
Rodney Stewart might be the only bright spot on a Colorado team that will struggle much of the season. Sidelined parts of the fall with a stiff neck and back, Stewart went out and was a major part of the Buffaloes' offense. Stewart ran the ball 16 times for 67 yards in a win over in-state rival Colorado State.
Even the quarterbacks are getting into the idea?
The Big 12 typical quarterback of the last few years has diminished. The number of pure pocket gun-slingers in the conference is down.
Nebraska freshman QB Taylor Martinez rushed for nearly as many yards as he threw for in week one. Replacing senior and 2009 starter Zac Lee, Martinez went for 127 yards and three touchdowns.
Iowa State's Austin Arnuad helped kick off the college football season on Thursday, carrying the ball 14 times.
And last but not least, Texas A&M's Jarrod Johnson managed only six yards, but rushed nine times. SFA surprisingly did very well shutting down his ability to run. Don't expect every team to be able to make the adjustment.
These running back match-ups should be fun:
Sept. 18th- Kansas State at Iowa State
Daniel Thomas vs Alexander Robinson
Oct. 30th- Oklahoma State at Kanas State
Kendall Hunter vs Daniel Thomas
Nov. 27th- Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
DeMarco Murray vs Kendall Hunter