2018 Houston Cougars Football Season Preview Series: Running Backs
By: Jimmy Schofield
During the magical 2015 season in which your Houston Cougars were crowned American Athletic Conference champions and culminated in winning the Peach Bowl over Florida State, one thing was constant; a dominating running game.
The offense averaged 235 yards-per-game on the ground that year, ranking 13th nationally. In 2016 that total dropped nearly 100 yards to 147 per game to rank 99th. Last season it rose slightly to 166, 63rd in the nation. With a young quarterback under center, that number will have to rise even more if the offense hopes to be successful this upcoming season.
New offensive coordinator Kendall Briles emphasizes the ground game as he’s had two top-6 finishes as OC at his last two stops, second with 326 ypg at Baylor in 2015 and sixth with 285 ypg at FAU last season. How will the run game fare this season? Let’s take a look at the candidates at running back.
With last season’s leading rusher, Duke Catalon, no longer on the team after rushing for almost 1,200 yards the past two seasons combined, the leading returning rusher is Mulbah Car (6-0, 210, Jr.). While fans complained that Catalon “danced” along the interior too many times for their liking, that definitely wasn’t a problem for Car as he’s averaged a healthy 4.6 yards-per-carry average on 129 carries (for 594 yards) over the past two seasons as the battering ram between-the-tackles. The wider splits the offensive line will employ this season will help the run game as Car rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown during the spring game.
Speaking of strong interior running, that’s the name of the game for Terrance Williams (6-2, 222, RSr.), a transfer from Baylor. The Ennis product rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in three seasons (11 starts in 29 career games) in Waco. The former 4-star recruit also has the speed to burst around the edge as his 5.4 ypc average would attest. It would have been nearly 6 ypc if not for a shoulder injury last season that limited him to eight games. Williams has a 40-yard dash time of 4.52 as well.
Others in contention for time in the backfield include Davion Mitchell (5-11, 185, So.), Patrick Carr (5-11, 197, RJr.), Kevrin Justice (5-11, 205, RJr.), Josh Burrell (5-10, 232, RJr.) and true freshman Kelan Walker (5-11, 214). Mitchell played last season as a true freshman and totaled 38 yards on 10 carries after rushing for nearly 1,600 yards and 31 TD’s as a senior in high school. The Rockdale High native also ran track, finishing fourth in the long jump and helping the 4X100 and 4X200 relay teams to state titles in 2016. Carr rushed for 28 yards last season after sitting out the previous year after transferring from Colorado where he rushed for 262 yards as a true freshman in 2015. Carr didn’t play in the spring game while Mitchell had just two carries but for 26 yards.
While Justice and Burrell haven’t produced much on the field over their career thus far with a combined 200 yards (149 for Justice, 51 for Burrell), Justice actually surprised during the spring game leading the backs with 99 yards on 13 attempts with a TD as he began the game with quite a few physical runs between the tackles albeit against the second-string defense. Walker could be a wildcard in regards to the depth chart as he enters his true freshman season at an already svelte 215 pounds. The DeSoto product rushed for 1,760 yards and 28 TD’s in three seasons. A one-time 4-star recruit, Walker is another north/south runner who has the ability (via his shifty footwork) to take it to the house once he hits the hole as he averaged 7.1 ypc for his career.
Our next season preview article will break down the other skill positions, the wide receivers and tight ends as we wrap up looking at the offensive side of the ball.