Utah's Devontae Booker didn't blink after absorbing blows in 2014


There’s no definitive statistic in football for toughness.

But if there were, it could very well be the number of yards gained after contact.

“That speaks to toughness,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It’s not an exact science or an exact way to measure it, but it certainly gives you a good idea of who’s capable of taking a hit and continuing to take the football up the field for you.”

Whittingham would know. Last season, Utah RB Devontae Booker led the Pac-12 in rushing yards after contact with 815 yards. That number crushed his closest conference competitor (UCLA running back Paul Perkins) by about 200 post-contact yards.

And yes, this statistic could also be looked at in a more negative manner, as a reflection on the defenses these backs have played. And that might be true if it were more consistent across the conference.

For example, the only four running backs in Power 5 conferences who accounted for more yards after contact than Booker were all from the Big Ten. In the Pac-12, Booker was the only running back -- who finished in the top 10 for rushing yardage -- who accounted for more post-contact yardage than pre-contact yardage (54 percent of Booker’s total yardage came after contact).

Arizona State’s D.J. Foster was the closest -- 45 percent of his 1,081 rushing yards came after contact. And even many of the running backs who got more attention last season were quite a ways behind Booker (Perkins -- 39 percent; Oregon's Royce Freeman -- 44 percent; USC's Buck Allen -- 33 percent).

“Anyone can get blocked yardage. Blocked yardage, I can do it,” Whittingham said. “But the real barometer, in my opinion, or one of the main barometers in judging a running back is yards after contact.”

The Utes accounted for 1,041 total post-contact yards last season, and that proved critical. With their struggles to keep the ball moving through the air, it was often Booker who was counted on to move the chains.

Because of that fact, Whittingham said that Booker was “without a doubt” the offensive MVP of the team last season.

“Devontae was making those yards with defenses loading the box up and expecting him to run the football,” Whittingham said. “It was kind of like, ‘OK, we know that you know we’re going to run it and you know that we know that you know we’re going to run it, but we’re still going to run it.’”

And not only did he run it, he ran it exceptionally well.

During the final 10 games of the 2014 season, Booker averaged 26 touches a game. Whittingham said he expects Booker to take about 30 carries a game next season, but that he hopes that his yards gained are even more effective than they were this past season, assuming the pass game can start to gain some respect from defenses.

“The thing with Devontae is he has got the entire package -- he can run inside the tackles, outside the tackles, he can run over you, around you,” Whittingham said. “He’s very talented with the ball in his hands.”

But even more specific than that, he’s very talented once he gets away from that first defensive player.