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2006 Football Review - Running Backs

Tons of stuff to talk about this week with the Outback Bowl quickly approaching, but I want to keep plowing ahead with the end of season report cards. Today we will look at the running backs. For review, here is what we have covered so far:

Defensive Line
Offensive Line
Wide Receivers

Going into the season nobody had any worries about the running backs. We had Tony Hunt who rushed for 1000 yards last season. Backing him up was Austin Scott, a highly touted recruit that rushed for 100 yards against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. And the third man on the depth chart was Rodney Kinlaw who had ample playing time in 2005 and played well when called upon.

Tony Hunt was the unquestioned leader of the depth chart going into the season. Here's what I had to say about him at the time.

Tony is a steady runner that will churn out four and five yard runs all day. He is a tough back that will lower his head and get the extra yard every time. His pass blocking and catching abilities push him to the #1 spot on the depth chart. But he has yet to show the explosive speed to break the long run.

That's exactly what we got out of Hunt. Nothing fancy. Nothing flashy. No 75 yard touchdown runs. No juking people out of their shoes. Just some tough nosed plow ahead running. Here is what Brian of MGoBlog has to say about Hunt.

Yes, (Hunt) was badly outgained by Wisconsin's PJ Hill, but Hill had the following advantages:
  1. a quarterback
  2. an offensive line.
You will agree with me that these are important things to have in the game of football, yes? Hunt was the Penn State offense, such as it was. With Anthony Morelli completing a whopping 54% of his passes, teams could tee off on Hunt on anything that looked remotely like a running down. This they did, but Hunt dragged them five yards forward anyway. I went into the year thinking Hunt was average at best, but come out of it with a respect for his pounding style and yeoman service to a lost cause. Without him, Penn State reverts all the way to their 2003-2004 nadir. If you're handing out a "most valuable player" award in the Big Ten... well... Troy Smith still wins. But Hunt is second.

Brian hit it right on the head. The ineptitude of our offense allowed teams to key on Hunt all season. First contact was usually made at the line of scrimmage, but Hunt usually dragged the tackler(s) another five yards ahead. His running lanes were mostly limited to running between the tackles as the tight ends and tackles sealed outside runs about as well as a paper towel would seal Hover Dam. In many games like Ohio State and Illinois, Hunt was the entire offense such as it was. He never showed break away speed. When he would break into the secondary it almost appeared like he didn't know what to do. Instead of breaking for the endzone he slows down looking around for where the contact is going to come from. But what he lacked in breakaway ability he made up for with consistency. Whenever there was a tough yard on third down, there was Hunt. It didn't matter that everyone in America knew he was getting the ball. If he needed two yards he got two and a half. If he needed three yards he got three and a half.

Hunt got most of his yards on his own

On top of his pounding running style, Hunt played a solid game when he didn't have the ball. When called upon to block or pick up a blitz he was there most of the time doing a great job. He was an effective receiver coming out of the backfield. His two screen passes in the Michigan game were the only beam of light in an otherwise dark offense that night. Tony Hunt was unquestionably the most valuable player on the offense, and in the opinion of many Penn State fans, Tony Hunt was just as important to the team as Paul Posluszny.

Austin Scott partially tore his knee in the spring. He was expected to make a recovery in time for the season, but a severe ankle sprain forced him to take a redshirt this year. From what I hear he has been practicing well on the scout team and doesn't harbor any ill feelings toward being redshirted. He should be the favorite to take the starting job in 2007.

Scott (#33) spent the season watching DWill and the Boys stink it up

I expected Rodney Kinlaw to have a good year. With Scott going down in the preseason I expected Kinlaw to get 10-15 carries per game which would position him for a run at the starting job in 2007. But injuries sidelined him early and he was never effective. He finished the season with just 39 carries and 199 yards.

A rare Rodney Kinlaw sighting

The fullbacks, Matt Hahn and BranDon Snow did a fine job of blocking. Snow started out the season in Joe's doghouse and had to work to get playing time. At one point he and Levi Brown got into a shouting match on the sideline which drew some negative press. Sadly, this was his year to make an impact as a potential NFL draft pick, but he blew it with his behavior that prevented him from seeing meaningful playing time.

Matt Hahn stepped in admirably. He showed he is a consistent blocker and even caught a few balls in the flat, one of them for a touchdown that instigated the aforementioned tiff between Brown and Snow. He should be the first string fullback next year and have a fine season blocking for Scott, Kinlaw, and freshman Evan Royster.

Matt Hahn (#34) and BranDon Snow(#30)

In my preseason analysis I gave the running backs a B. Given all the injuries they were pretty disappointing as a group, but Tony Hunt bailed them out by carrying the load for all of them. Because Hunt is the only one who got any meaningful playing time, my grade could be considered a grade of his performance. He was perfectly consistent and did everything he was asked to do, but other than the screen pass in the final minutes of the Michigan game, he never showed the ability to break a big play and spark the offense. For that reason, I'm going to give the running backs a final grade of B.