Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Outlook Part 5 - Running Backs
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: April 05, 2007
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Related Links

Running Game

UA will not Forsake Power


Coaches: Michael Smith, Bill Bedenbaugh


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Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who came from Texas Tech with offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, is UA’s running game coordinator and will work closely with Dykes and running backs coach Michael Smith to make it work. Bedenbaugh is experienced in the nuances of the spread offense, and rushing success starts with his big guys in the front row.  The backs find space only if those fellows give it to them.


The Cats are equipped with a pair of veteran tailbacks in senior Chris Jennings and sophomore Xavier Smith, plus had soph Terry Longbons and redshirt freshman Glyndon Bolasky working the spot in spring ball. Jennings was good enough to unseat junior Chris Henry for six starts in 2006, and good enough to gain 451 yards ?- 201 of those in one game.


Henry declared for the NFL draft and will forego his senior year. His physical power and pass catching ability (21) will be missed.  But Jennings (4.3) and Smith (5.2) had better per-carry averages, showed good down-hill instincts, and Stoops calls them solid contenders for the featured back role in the new offense. Jennings is shiftier; Smith’s a down-hill guy.


The issue here, if Arizona plans to throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game, is what exactly happens in the run game? At Texas Tech, Dykes co-directed an attack that ran the ball 17 times per game and threw 50 passes. UA’s figures were 32 runs and 30 throws.  Tech’s featured back carried the 156 times and gained 926 yards with 10 scores.  Henry and Jennings combined to take 270 handoffs, gain 1,032 yards and score 10 times. That’s likely to change.  But Stoops says the physical nature of the run game, and the need to use power, will not go away.


Chris Jennings Xavier Smith Terry Longbons Glyndon Bolasky



“We’re going to be physical on offense, and that’s going to involve the running game,” Stoops says. “We will not become a soft team because we’re going to throw the ball, that’s not who we are.”  The Cats will play the power game.  The aforementioned guys in camp have shown they can do this, and UA welcomes a pair of incoming freshman recruited for the short term, if necessary -- Nick Grigsby and Joe Reese. 


In one spring scrimmage, running backs averaged 8.4 yards per carry against a pretty good defense to add 185 yards to a productive passing game. The ball carriers seemed to get the ball in early space and the play-calling was not predictive but blended seemlessly with the pace of the new offense.


The offensive model Stoops has mentioned in the off season is Brigham Young’s, UA’s first opponent in 2007. That offense averaged 465 yards per game with 142 rushing and 323 passing. The Cougars threw and ran the ball in equal amounts, considerably more balanced in rush-pass than Texas Tech.  


If Arizona goes with an “I” or other power formations occasionally as suggeted by Stoops to maintain some smash-mouth style, don’t necessarily look for H-backs Earl Mitchell, Brandon Lopez and Brooks Reed, all good fullback types, to run the ball. Dykes' co-chairmanship at Texas Tech had two running backs carry the ball 161 times; on 21 other occasions it was receivers on the handoff.  Look for Arizona to run the ball with its core group.


Coaches believed former UA running back Mike Bell was a good one; he ended up starting games for the Denver Broncos as a free-agent last year. They felt his successor Chris Henry was solid; he's poised for the NFL draft a year early. They feel Jennings and Smith are going to be complimentary to the new offense. It's easy to believe.


Top Running Backs

Chris Jennings, 5-10, 225, Sr., 1L

Xavier Smith, 5-11, 196, So., 1L

Terry Longbons, 5-11, 200, So., SQ

Glyndon Bolasky, 5-11, 208, Fr-RS

Fall Recruits: Nicholas Grigsby, 5-10, 178; Joe Reese, 6-1, 190


Position Notes... Tech’s featured running back in ?'06, Shannon Woods added 75 receptions to his ball carrying duties. If that’s the model, that’s 75 more touches in open space for a UA back... Jennings, initially a walk-on junior college transfer, had a 201-yard game on 26 carries (7.7) against Stephen F. Austin, the 10th-best single-game total in UA history. A week earlier against a very good team, he had 53 yards against LSU. He earned a scholarship at mid-year...   RB Chris Henry tested so well at the NFL combine that he should help re-start UA’s draft history. The last skill position player picked from UA was receiver Bobby Wade (5th round) in the 2003 draft... Xavier Smith had two extensive work days in 2006, carrying 10 times for 57 yards against SFA and 12 times for 56 yards at Stanford. His other carry during the year was for seven yards against Washington...


Next: The Defense



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