Alamo Bowl position previews: Running backs
In the days leading up to the 2016 Alamo Bowl, the Emerald will take a unit-by-unit look at Oregon and TCU, determining which team has the edge going into the showdown on Jan. 2 in San Antonio. Today, we’ll look at each team’s running backs.
Oregon is consistently a force in the running game. It has featured the Pac-12’s best rushing offense each of the last 10 seasons. Those around Oregon football are extremely high on running back Royce Freeman and feel he should have been in the Heisman conversation. Freeman has run for 1,706 yards — fourth-most in the FBS — and 14 touchdowns with a 6.6-yard average — 142.2 yards per game.
Backing up Freeman is change-of-pace back Taj Griffin, who was the nation’s highest rated all-purpose back out of high school. Taj, whose twin brother Ty Griffin plays defensive back for Oregon, runs a 4.34 40-yard dash and makes cuts at full-speed. Mark Helfrich has said Griffin is “electric fast.” He has 529 yards and three touchdowns on 73 attempts, good for 7.2 yards per carry.
Kani Benoit has also rushed for a 7.2-yard average although more quietly than Griffin. He broke out for 83 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in Oregon’s season-opener against Eastern Washington, but hasn’t gotten double-digit carries since. He has 359 yards and three touchdowns on 50 attempts.
At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, redshirt freshman Tony Brooks-James has posted an 8.2-yard average, with 238 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Brooks-James is the only running back of the four who doesn’t have a rush of at least 60 yards this season.
Helfrich said TCU’s offense has elements of Washington State’s air raid as well as the Ducks’ explosive ground attack. With Bram Kohlhausen most likely to line up behind center instead of the arrested athlete Trevone Boykin, the Horned Frogs will probably lean more on their running game.
Running back Aaron Green is TCU’s best playmaker now that Boykin and injured Josh Doctson both won’t play. Green shined as the lead back when B.J. Catalon went down last year, averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 129 attempts. In 2015, he’s rushed for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns, including an 86-yard score. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he’s fast and a good pass catcher out of the backfield. A San Antonio native and senior, Green will need to shoulder a large workload.
Behind Green on the depth chart are sophomores Trevorris Johnson and Kyle Hicks. Johnson has rushed for 262 yards and no touchdowns on 43 carries and Hicks has rushed for 250 yards and three touchdowns on 49. Both figure to see more snaps than usual with Boykin, who had 612 yards and nine touchdowns on 123 carries, off the field.
It’s hard to argue Oregon is not the better rushing team here. Oregon has one of the best running backs in the country in Freeman and is ranked fifth in the FBS in rushing offense, compared to 30th for TCU.
Dec. 26: Offensive line preview
Dec. 27: Tight ends preview
Dec. 28: Linebackers preview
Dec. 29: Defensive line preview
Dec. 30: Secondary preview
Dec. 31: Wide receivers preview
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