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Ryan Craig

State will have depth at running back - again

Posted August 11, 2009

It’s fall in Raleigh, which means it must be time to talk about N.C. State’s depth at running back.

For the past several years, the Pack’s runners have looked every bit the part on paper – talent, varying levels of game experience, good combination of power and elusiveness, etc…

And yet, by the time the year is over, whether because of injury or ineffectiveness, we are talking about yet another underachieving Wolfpack running game.

Take a look at the Pack’s totals in 2006 – the last year that N.C. State cracked the top five in the ACC in rushing average per game. That year, Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene formed one of the best young, versatile trios around – giving State a high quality ground game and the fan base a lot to look forward to in the years to come.

2006 – 1436 total rushing yards (5th in the conference)

Baker – 12 games, 688 yards
Brown – 12 games, 658 yards
Eugene – 12 games, 60 yards

One year later, with the entire corps back, many foresaw a three-headed monster unlike any other in the conference. Injuries, however, would derail any thoughts of a dominant 1-2-3 punch, as Baker would undergo season-ending knee surgery and Brown dealt with several injuries that cost him time on the field.

Naturally, the teams’ production at the position slipped, and newcomer Curtis Underwood was forced into the fold.

2007 – 1071 total rushing yards – (11th in the conference)

Eugene – 12 games, 667 yards
Brown – 8 games, 447 yards
Underwood - 6 games, 84 yards
Baker – 1 game, 38 yards

But the injury bug would just be a hiccup, right? Baker would be back to full strength in ’08, and Brown and Eugene, with another year under their belts, would be even better than before – at least that’s what Tom O’Brien was hoping for.

Unfortunately for Pack fans, that was not the case.

One year later the team returned a more experienced Underwood, but this time the knee injury that limited Baker to one contest in ’07 would sabotage his whole ’08 campaign. Add to that Eugene’s struggles with a nagging ankle injury, and suddenly it was Andre Brown that was forced to shoulder nearly the entire running load.

Brown had a great year, became a leader on the field and off, and gave State a reliable presence behind first-year starter Russell Wilson, but it wasn’t enough to lift the ground game to the elite status many had expected after a breakout ’06 campaign.

2008 – 1601 total – (7th in the conference)

Brown – 13 games, 767 yards
Eugene – 10 games, 442 yards
Underwood – 10 games, 116 yards
Baker – 0 games, 0 yards

A quick look at the present roster and it’s easy to feel like this is an episode of Groundhog Day. Many of the usual suspects are still around – Brown is gone, but Eugene, Baker, and Underwood are back. With redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes and true freshman James Washington, an early enrollee, in the fold, some think that this could be the productive running rotation that Pack fans have been craving.

O’Brien spoke during the team’s media day about Baker and Underwood running with power, Eugene looking to be 100% back from a spring injury, and Barnes and Washington impressing with their athleticism.

Sounds like a pretty good group of players to hand the ball off to.

Here’s hoping the injury bug buzzes off long enough for us to see how good they can be.

Then again, isn’t that what we’ve been saying for several years now?

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  • airwrthy Aug 12, 10:29 p.m.

    benwhite, I'm actually concerned that our OL won't be all that great again this year.

    — Posted by TruthBKnown Banned Again02

    If it isn't, it should be. TOB has had enough time with his recruits to produce results. The only disappointment I forsee with this team is that noone steps up to fill Nate Irving's shoes, and the place kicker might be questionable as I think I've heard he's struggling.

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Aug 11, 4:38 p.m.

    benwhite, I'm actually concerned that our OL won't be all that great again this year.

  • ncsu81 Aug 11, 4:15 p.m.

    A major factor in the production of our RBs that isn't mentioned in the OL. Look for the line to be improved, thereby increasing the RB effectiveness and yardage gained.

  • coryald23 Aug 11, 3:56 p.m.

    Injury bug stay away! Stay away for a long time!! Don't come back anytime soon!! If this turns out to be a year like last year, I for one, will certainly be so disappointed, but the sport is what it is....all I can say is...Practice Smart, Play Smarter! GO PACK!!

  • Hokies94 Aug 11, 3:20 p.m.

    Staying healthy is the key as we all know. Baker was one of the best in high school history in NC. If he can stay healthy, they could surprise some teams.

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