Offensive line play fosters strong running game
The Cougars are tied for sixth in total offense in the nation with more than 575 yards per game, but unlike the quarterback-driven teams of previous seasons, this year the power running game is leading the way.
With the emergence of sophomore running backs Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson, the Cougars are the 10th-ranked rushing team in the country, giving them the balance to challenge teams through the air and on the ground.
“I think it says a lot about our offense that we are committed to both the run and the pass. I know in the past we passed the ball a lot more. For me, as an offensive lineman, it’s encouraging to run the ball. I love it,” said junior center Bryce Redman.
In front of the running game is a veteran offensive line that has been productive despite battling injuries.
Senior offensive lineman Ty Cloud missed the first two games of the season because of leg and head injuries, and a knee injury will sideline senior Ralph Oragwu for the rest of the year.
The Cougars have given up only three sacks this season despite the injuries. Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee said all players in the position group prepare as the starter.
“We try to prepare everybody like they are going to play, and it kind of worked out that way. We’ve had a couple injuries and guys have stepped in and known where to go and how to do it, and they have done a nice job and that’s the nature of the business,” Elarbee said. “I think if you are preparing your ones, a two can become a one real quick. And gosh, knock on wood — a three can become a one real quick.”
Senior Rowdy Harper has played both guard and tackle, while sophomore Zach Johnson has emerged as a valuable member along the offensive line since he worked his way up the depth chart this offseason, said head coach Tony Levine.
“He’s done a great job; he’s very athletic for the size he has,” Levine said. “He’s a 6’6″, 300-pound young man and he’s continuing to get better week by week. He’s another guy who has been fun to watch (as he improves) from the spring, through the summer and through camp in August.”
Redman, a team captain this season, said the depth on the offensive line will hold its own.
“I feel good about it, mainly because we got a lot of older guys and Coach Elarbee does great with getting everybody reps. You can’t not be prepared with that guy.”