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Positional Recap and 2017 Preview: Running Backs

How the RB corps performed in 2016 and some expectations for 2017

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-Temple vs Wake Forest Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, Wake’s rushing offense was anemic. The team gained 3.0 yards per carry and its 105 yards per game ranked 123rd out of the 128 FBS 1-A teams.

Fortunately, the rushing attack was much-improved in 2016. While the team still lagged nationally (ranking 101st), the rushing output increased by almost 50% to get to 146 yards a game while averaging 3.6 yards per carry.

Player Ht / Wt Year Attempts Yards YPA TD
Matt Colburn 5'10" / 200 So 151 626 4.1 2
Cade Carney 5'11" / 215 Fr 156 589 3.8 6
John Wolford 6'1" / 200 Jr 130 521 4 6
Kendall Hinton 6'0" / 200 So 25 125 5 2
Tyler Bell 5'11" / 215 So 20 97 4.9 1
Rocky Reid 6'0" / 220 Fr 22 54 2.5 0

While last year the team did not have a single 500 yard rusher, this year there were three. One thing that jumps out, as is the case with the rest of the offense, is youth. The running backs logging carries were all freshmen or sophomores. The Deacs were led by sophomore Matt Colburn and freshman Cade Carney. They had pretty similar outputs: Colburn had a slight edge in total yards and yards per carry, while Carney racked up more touchdowns over the year. Each also had a couple of 100 yard games, and each hit pay dirt in the bowl win over Temple. Carney, of course, broke out big in just his second college football game by rushing for 108 yards and three touchdowns at Duke.

He did miss the three next games with a knee injury, but played strongly once he returned.

With those two guys running the ball well, there were not many carries to go around for the other backs on the roster. Tyler Bell, last year’s leading rusher, did not hit 100 yards this year although he did well with his limited touches. The highly-anticipated Rocky Reid, who suffered several injuries in his career, also struggled to make an impact.

Heading into the offseason, I would expect Carney to have the inside track on the starting position based on what he showed his freshman year. That said, Colburn is right there with him, and regardless of who starts, I expect to see a committee approach. Two potential wild cards are redshirt freshman Arkeem Byrd and incoming freshman Christian Beal.

Byrd is a bigger back at 6’1" who came in at 190lbs, a number that I suspect increased over the course of his redshirt season. He’s a strong and speedy runner who was a consensus 3 star recruit. He’ll certainly be competing for touches going forward, and I’m excited to see what he can bring to the field next year.

Finally, Christian Beal (5’10", 170lb) is a local guy who put up video game numbers for East Forsyth High School, just 20 minutes down the road from Wake Forest. For example, he scored 11 touchdowns in a three game stretch in the state playoffs. Beal is enrolling early, which will give him extra time with the team. We’ll see if the staff will be able to resist playing him next year. With Colburn, Carney, and Byrd competing for lead roles next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Beal redshirt. On the other hand, he’s so dynamic that the coaches may feel he just needs to be on the field. He adds some elusiveness, whereas our current lead backs are a bit more power-focused.

I’m optimistic that next year will see continued improvement in the Deacon rushing attack. We’re returning all of the major contributors in the ground game, and bringing in a couple of exciting playmakers. The offensive line will lose some senior experience, but most of the depth chart there will be returning as well. Establishing a legitimately respectable ground game could have an outsized impact on the offense as a whole by opening up better passing looks on first and second downs.

What are your thoughts on who will take the starting role heading into next season?