Running backs develop into strength for Cougars

Two games into the season, the running backs who once seemed questionable have become a strength in the Cougars’ offense.

Without junior running back Charles Sims, the Cougars’ leading rusher last season, sophomore running backs Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson have developed into a strong duo. The two-back tandem has combined for 417 yards and 6.8 yards per carry.

Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Travis Bush said Sims and Farrow accepted the challenge of carrying the load this offseason.

“Once Charles left, they got fired up because they knew their time was here,” Bush said. “They’ve worked their tails off and watched and worked throughout the summer … I anticipate them having a great year.”

The backfield was handed another challenge this week, though.

Farrow, the Cougars’ starter during the first two weeks, is doubtful against the Owls on Saturday. He was left off this week’s depth chart, which could mean more carries for Jackson, sophomore running back Justin Hicks and senior running back Kent Brooks if Farrow is unable to play.

Hicks, a walk-on who is still paying for his college, has been able to produce with limited carries. He has gained 68 yards on 15 carries.

The team has confidence in Hicks’ and Brooks’ ability to contribute against Rice.

“We’ve got a number of guys back there where it’s not a one-man show, and we keep guys fresh,”said head coach Tony Levine. “Certainly Kenneth Farrow is a sophomore captain, and that really speaks for itself. We’ll miss him if he can’t play this weekend, but we’ve got a number of guys I know our staff has complete confidence in, and their teammates do as well.”

The competition between the talented position group has fostered a better stable of running backs who trust each other on and off the field.

“We go out there and compete with each other, but we’re never selfish at all. The biggest thing is that we just pick each other up and guide each other throughout the whole process,” said Jackson, who has the third-longest streak of 100-yard games in the nation.

But more will be expected from the backfield against Rice with Farrow possibly out.

The team needs Jackson to continue playing at a high level so the offense can continue running smoothly. With Jackson and Farrow producing, the defense is forced to contribute an extra defender near the line of scrimmage.

Junior receiver Daniel Spencer said the running game’s success has made his job easier.

“Whenever the linebackers start creeping up, we try to go right over the top of them, and that helps a lot,” Spencer said.

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