Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Quartet powers Aggies' running game
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Nobody is going to confuse Texas A&M's offense with an old-school, power running attack.
The Aggies are a team that likes to operate at a fast pace, spread things out and get the ball to their playmakers in space.
Tailback Tra Carson rushed for 64 yards on nine carries in the Aggies' win over Arkansas.
But that doesn't mean they can't run the ball right at an opponent, which is what they did in their most recent win over Arkansas.
The second half of the Aggies' 45-33 win consisted of them running the ball 29 times and throwing just seven passes. For the first time since the AT&T Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma in January, the Aggies finished the game with more rushing yards (262) than passing (261). And that second half stretch included two drives, one of nine plays and one of seven, that were all running plays that ended in touchdowns.
"That's probably the first series we've had ever since we've been here [as a coaching staff] that we didn't attempt one pass and scored in a seven-, eight- or nine-play drive," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "That says a lot about your team, your versatility and about where our confidence factor lies with our offensive line and our running game."
What it also says is that the Aggies are deep at the running back position. All four of the Aggies' scholarship running backs -- Ben Malena, Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams -- touched the football on Saturday and combined for 203 rushing yards.
It was just the second time this season that all four have been available for a game, and was perhaps the best performance for the group this season.
"It's a luxury," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "It was really good to see all four of those guys out there. They were not only being competitive within the game, but they were competing with each other. That's how they do it every day."
Malena is the starter and elder statesman of the group. He emerged as the starter last season, claiming the top spot over then-senior Christine Michael, who's now with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL. Malena's combination of running, receiving and blocking ability makes him a versatile option that fits the A&M offense well. He is the leader among the team's four running backs with 303 yards and seven touchdowns. Coaches have praised his reliability and leadership all season.
But Saturday was a true showcase for Carson and Trey Williams, who provided a formidable one-two punch themselves. Carson, who has impressed since his Aggie debut on Aug. 31 against Rice, is a big, physical, north-south type of running back who also has good speed for someone carrying 230 pounds.
Averaging 5.6 yards per carry, he's second among the team's running backs this season with 229 yards and four touchdowns.
"You see Tra Carson out there running hard," Malena said. "It takes more than one guy to tackle him."
Trey Williams had a 100-yard game last season in a blowout against Auburn, but he hasn't always been healthy in his A&M career. He's still not 100 percent healthy but showed that he's getting close to that on Saturday, leading the team with 83 rushing yards and a touchdown while averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
"He's really, really good with the ball in his hands," McKinney said. "And he showed a little bit of that on Saturday and hopefully that'll kick start him for the rest of the year."
Brandon Williams missed the season opener while recovering from offseason foot surgery but has gradually been working his way back into the lineup. He showed his burst with a 20-yard carry against Arkansas and also has a touchdown reception to his name this season.
"He's the guy that probably has the most wire-to-wire potential," Sumlin said. "He's a home-run threat from anywhere."
The fascinating part about the Aggies' playcalling on Saturday, which led to 44 rushes and 30 pass attempts, is that there were no designed runs called for quarterback Johnny Manziel. McKinney noted that Manziel is going to run whether or not a run play is called for him but they wanted to limit how many hits he took.
Manziel wound up carrying the ball nine times for 59 yards with the four running backs accounting for the other 35 carries. He is still the team's overall leading rusher with 314 yards on the season.
But as the Aggies get deeper into their SEC schedule, they can do so knowing that they have a multitude of running back options to go to and so far, all of them have proven capable of delivering.
"We've got a variety of guys," Sumlin said. "Our staff has done a good job with those guys and making sure they're sharing the wealth and that the more you can share it, the healthier you're going to be throughout the year. We're not even halfway [through the season] and we've got some bruised up guys.
"They know that and they help each other and I'm pleased with the direction that whole position has gone."