Texans may ride ‘hot hand’ at RB, but will look to rotate running backs
STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton Head Coach Todd Whitten has been consistent in saying what his offense was not last year – consistent. When it came to rushing, the Texans had a fair season, but it wasn't stellar like in years past.
In 2020, they averaged 178.9 yards per game on the ground. Not bad when looking at the FCS rankings, which would have put them 20th in the nation if not for the re-classification period. But compared to the previous two years, it wasn't up to Tarleton standards. In 2019, the Texans averaged 248.0 rushing yards per game, and that doesn't even compare to 2018, when they were at 310.1 yards per game on the ground.
Assistant Coach (RB and TE) Jonathan Beasley said they need to improve on the plays that will get them big chunks of yards, getting up the field compared to going side-to-side.
"Just being able to get north and south, we got to make plays," Beasley said. "We got to make big plays in the run game and we got to be great in our pass assignments. If we can do that, we're really going to help our team grow and be the offense that we want to be."
Beasley said they have good depth this year at the running back position with five players. Three are returners, including the Texans lead back last season, Ryheem Skinner. The senior finished with 687 rushing yards on 161 carries (4.3 yards per) and six rushing touchdowns in eight games. He had three games with over 100 rushing yards, including a 197-yard night on 31 carries (6.4 per) vs. Dixie State on Feb. 27, the 17th highest mark for rushing yards in a game in school history.
Khalil Banks and Derrel Kelley III are also in that five-man group as returners. Banks, a senior, had 222 yards on 41 carries (5.4 yards per) and a touchdown in six games. Kelley had 200 rushing yards on the button on 36 carries (5.6 yards per) and a touchdown himself in seven games.
Two grad transfers have entered the conversation now in the Tarleton RB room, both with NCAA Division I experience. Jayy McDonald hails from Middle Tennessee State, where he played in all nine games in 2020 with three starts, finishing with 153 rushing yards on 37 carries (4.14 yards per). He rushed seven times for a team-high 76 yards at UTSA on Sept. 25, 2020, which included a 64-yard run.
Daniel Wright Jr. transferred to Tarleton from Weber State, where he was a part of two Big Sky Championship teams. Last season, he had 303 rushing yards on 44 carries (6.9 yards per) and three touchdowns. He had a season-high 11 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown in his team's FCS Playoff game against Southern Illinois.
McDonald and Wright have very different styles of play they bring to this Texan squad. McDonald brings the speed, someone who will explode through the hole if given a chance.
"I carry myself on speed, I love being fast," McDonald said. "I was born with it, it was nothing I needed to work on. You can't coach it. One thing about me in that backfield, you put the ball in my hands, I'm going to make something happen. I just wanted to be part of a program that allows me to be me, allows me to use my speed, trusts me, allows me to be comfortable there and Tarleton is the place."
Beasley said, "He brings tenacity, speed, toughness, excitement – he's just a great all-around kid. He works his tail off. So, a guy that's done a great job coming in from being a grad transfer. Leading by example, he's done a great job of that."
Wright on the other hand brings the hard-nosed style of football, a runner that defenses won't want to meet at the line.
"My strength is how I run – physical, dominant and with anger," Wright said. "I feel like it's the way of the struggle of life that I carry over to the field."
Beasley said, "Daniel brings a great intellect of football, understanding pass protection, he's really good at getting north and south. He plays with good balance and does a good job of making people miss in space."
So, what should we expect come gameday? All five running backs have great experience and all bring something different to the table.
"The guy that's got the hot hand is going to get a little bit more of the carries," Beasley said. "But we'll keep them running through. That's a good five-man rotation, and when we get to that point, we'll ride the back that's hot and try to be competitive and win games.
"They're going to work hard, we're going to rotate those guys in and just know they're going to battle each day."