For the four seasons leading up to 2009, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle didn’t have to worry about his running game.
From 2005-08, Tyrell Fenroy rushed for more than 1,000 yards every season, and the Ragin’ Cajuns never ranked lower than 11th in the country in rushing during that span.
So when the rushing offense dipped to 71st in the country last year and failed to produce more than 110 total yards during five of the Ragin’ Cajuns' games, Bustle knew that his team was in for an uphill battle.
“We had a pretty good running back in Undre Sails and then he breaks his leg,” Bustle said. “All of a sudden, we’re left with two freshman and we were kind of left without a running back."
Sails rushed for 432 yards and two touchdowns in six games before suffering a broken leg that ended his career, leaving a slew of young backs to fill the void. Overall, the Louisiana-Lafayette running game accounted for 1,643 yards, just 268 yards more than Fenroy had by himself during his senior season.
Finding a featured running back is the goal during spring ball, which opened Tuesday, and Bustle is looking to Robert Walker, Draylon Booker and Julian Shankle to come through. Bustle said Walker would have been the team’s premier back last year, but he didn’t clear academically and missed the year. However, his paperwork came through at the end of the season and he’s participating in spring football.
Bustle is hoping that a competent running game will take some of the pressure off quarterback Chris Masson. Masson threw for 2,406 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and actually tried to be a little bit of a running threat. His predecessor, Michael Desormeaux, complemented Fenroy during three of their four years together, and Desormeaux even rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons.
Masson doesn’t have the speed or agility that Desormeaux had, but he is a decent runner. However, he was totally ineffective when he didn’t have a consistent running game backing him up.
“We really didn’t have a running back that really stepped up,” Bustle said. “So, I’m really hoping that a couple of the young running backs will step up and we can find a new one. Those running backs grow up. That’s the good thing about those young bucks: they do grow up.”