- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead knew his team would be relying on him more this season, so he worked hard during the spring and summer to make himself better.
He got in the weight room more. He watched more film to study defenses. He spent more time in the training room taking care of his body after workouts.
The result has been his best season yet. Pead already has 821 yards rushing with eight touchdowns, and the senior is on pace to have career highs for carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He already has 136 carries with four games to go, and should eclipse the 157 he had last season. You can bet Pead will be a huge key against West Virginia on Saturday, especially with the Mountaineers ranking No. 7 in the league in rush defense.
"I am definitely embracing my role this year," Pead said in an interview. "If I have got to put the team on my back, I will. If I have to let someone else take over, I will. It is all about what is best for the team."
The better balance between Pead and Zach Collaros has been best for the team this season. Pead has been the most consistent player for the Bearcats, and has unleashed a number of game changing plays throughout the course of nearly every game this season. He scored on his first carry in two of the first three games of the season. His 50-yard touchdown run in the second half against Louisville turned the tide in the game.
He opened the contest against Pitt last week with a 53-yard run. So far on the season, Pead has 10 rushes that have gone for 20 or more yards, including three for 50 or more. He had 11 runs of 20 yards or more in all of 2010.
"I feel like I'm better in my all around football knowledge," Pead said. "Watching film has helped me understand where the soft spot is on the defense. I am better at reading my holes and all of that has really helped me improve this season."
Pead certainly has been a handful to bring down this season. When asked for an evaluation of the running back, West Virginia linebacker Doug Rigg said, "He's an explosive player. You have to account for him. A lot of teams we've played say he was the best running back they played against."
Thanks to that explosiveness, Pead has a career average of 6.4 yards per carry. That ranks fourth among all active running backs. Coach Butch Jones said coaches placed a heavy emphasis on making Pead a more well-rounded player going into this season.
"There's a difference between being a runner and a running back," Jones said. "Being a running back encompasses a lot of things from being good and solid in pass protection to ball fakes to getting the tough yardage to being a threat out of the backfield or out on the perimeter. We really challenged him on his film study and knowledge of the game."
So far, Pead has accepted the challenge.