It’s not uncommon to hear football coaches talk about one-on-one battles on the field. A defensive end has to beat an offensive tackle, for example. Anecdotes don’t always include a running back beating the first player to make contact. Virginia coach Tony Elliott wants exactly that out of his backs, though.
The new head of the program made that point after the Virginia Blue-White Spring Game, his first look at the Cavaliers in front of a live audience. The running backs combined for 34 carries, 207 yards, and a strong 6.1 yards per carry but hey didn’t get much early in the game or against the top line defense.
A big chunk of the production came from Perris Jones springing free on outside run for 75 yards and he ended up with 129 yards on 9 carries, all in the second half against increasing amounts of subs. Amaad Foston and Mike Hollins tallied 25 carries for 64 yards, an average of 2.56 yards per carry with a lot coming in the first half. Foston had 16 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.
There were contributing circumstances to the production. The offensive line played the day with fewer than 10 available players and rotated guys on and off of both teams. The first half also included a healthy diet of inside zone read plays without a real threat of the quarterback keeping the football due to the no-contact rules place for that position.
Still, for Elliott, it was less about the specific numbers or play calls and more about the approach of the players. He said after the Virginia scrimmage that the Hoos have got to take another step of progress with the running backs.
“I thought there were a couple of situations that the offensive line did good enough just to get them to a one on one and we didn’t win those one on ones in the first half,” Elliott said. “That will be a great opportunity for us to go back and challenge those guys. That’s what running the football and being effective is. A great running back, he makes the offensive line right. I think these guys are capable, they’ve just got to develop that mindset that I don’t care how it’s blocked, I’m going to get four yards. That’s my mindset. We want to enforce that.”
Virginia didn’t feature the running back position much in the past two seasons. The primary back Wayne Taulapapa transferred out after the coaching change, while one-year transfer Devin Darrington finished his career after leading the team in yards per carry last season. So the cumulative experience doesn’t add up to many carries for the group.
Foston redshirted last season and really gained his first major set of reps in the spring. Mike Hollins had 49 carries for 213 yards and 4.3 yards per carry last season, but rarely had a regular role in the offense. The two main backs from the spring have the size (Foston is 6’0”, 222 and Hollins is 5’9”, 203) and skills to develop further. The Cavaliers also plan to add Miami transfer Cody Brown before fall camp; he posted 34 carries for 139 yards and 4.1 yards per carry with the Hurricanes.
Those numbers match the floor of production that Elliott mentioned at around 4.0 yards per carry, but that’s really just the most basic level of expectation. The top 100 players nationally last season averaged better than 5.4 yards per carry each of the last five years and the elite players (top 25) were all well above 6.0 yards per carry. Elliott featured one of those backs at Clemson in two-time ACC Player of the Year...
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