Brinkley, Browning give Syracuse running game punch

November, 6, 2008
11/06/08
12:12
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Curtis Brinkley briefly met Jim Brown and spent time talking to Floyd Little when those Syracuse greats came through town earlier this year for the premier of the Ernie Davis movie "The Express."

 
 AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli
 Curtis Brinkley's 899 yards this season nearly matches the totals he produced his first three years.

Next time Brinkley sees those guys, he can tell them, 'I did something neither you nor Davis could.' The Orange senior had a career-high 166 yards in last Saturday's win over Louisville, making him the first back in school history to surpass 100 yards in five consecutive games in the same season.

"That means a lot," he said, "knowing all the great backs that have come through here."

It seems like Syracuse has been searching for an offensive identity ever since Greg Robinson became the head coach. Now, as Robinson's career may be in its twilight, the Orange finally have one.

First-year offensive coordinator Mitch Browning has installed a system similar to the one he had at Minnesota, a running-based attack that produced stars such as Gary Russell, Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney. There's nothing gimmicky about Browning's schemes.

"It's just good old, old-fashioned football," Browning said. "It's all about putting your nose on the defender. A lot of people teach that modern-day football, where you get in front of a guy and try to shield block him. But that's not my style.

"I believe in guys lining up and putting a hand on the ground and coming off the ground.
We're going to try to be a physical offensive football team, and I think we've gradually become that."

It took a while for the Syracuse offensive line to adjust to that new style -- and for a main running back to emerge. When the season began, Brinkley was locked in a three-man battle with Doug Hogue and Delone Carter for the starting job. It wasn't until Carter pulled his hamstring against Penn State that Brinkley became the workhorse. He's had 100-yard games every week since, averaging 137.8 yards and 24 carries per game.

Brinkley has enjoyed the workload. In the Louisville game, he had his longest run of the season in the fourth-quarter, a 45-yarder.

"He's very decisive in his cuts and he's very hard to bring down," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, whose team will try and stop Brinkley this weekend. "He's one of those guys who's low to the ground and he's really running the ball with confidence."

Brinkley came to Syracuse with high expectations, but he has suffered a series of leg and knee injuries that have slowed down his career. His 899 yards this season nearly matches the totals he produced his first three years.

"I've been through more downs than ups in college," he said. "This year has been amazing."

Browning describes Brinkley as a tough guy who's "probably more quick than fast."

"Can I say he's as talented as Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney?" Browning said. "Not right now. But he's done an awfully good job for us."

And with Browning's help, Brinkley has done something no other Syracuse back ever has.

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