The goal for any running back is a 1,000 yard season. The obsession over the number may be unfair, but the expectation for running backs remains the same. If a halfback runs back and forth the length of the football field ten times, he is said to have had a good season. UNC’s Giovanni Bernard had two good seasons in Chapel Hill, rushing over 1000 yards twice in his short career for Carolina. This year, finding that 1000 yard back will be very hard to do, but not from a talent standpoint. North Carolina has four talented running backs to choose from heading into this season, and the question is how to use them, and how to find 1000 yards in the new crop of ball carriers.
The four running backs Coach Fedora has at his disposal this season all are very talented. AJ Blue switched positions once he couldn’t find playing time at QB, and has excelled as a short yardage, “thunder” running back. Sophomore Romar Morris has been named the starter for the first game, and brings the speed and the “lightning” element to the position. Talented freshmen TJ Logan and Khris Francis both came to play this season too. ESPN rated both Logan and Francis four star recruits coming out of high school; Francis was ranked the 29th best running back and Logan the 48th best athlete. With all the talent, the challenge now for Coach Fedora is finding the right balance of youth and experience, running and pass catching, and speed and power.
AJ Blue is the veteran of the group, rushing for 433 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Blue performed well in the Wake Forest game last season when Gio was out with injury, putting up 106 yards on the ground and averaging 5.6 yards a carry. His partner in crime that day was Romar Morris, who added 70 yards on 5 yards a carry, with both players recording one touchdown. Romar Morris was named the starter earlier this week, so he should get most of the touches outside the red zone and on long yardage situations. I think Fedora will bring AJ Blue in on third and short and goal line situations, and use him as a power back. Morris will be the one catching passes (he caught 5 passes for 149 yards in the Louisville game, so the ability is there) and breaking off long runs on first downs. The two could end up making a very effective tandem by the season’s end.
The big question mark is how Fedora will use his two freshman secret weapons. One big difference between the freshman is that Khris Francis enrolled early and had a great spring, while Logan joined the Heels this summer. Coach Fedora’s offense requires a mastery of the system and good conditioning, so Francis has a big leg up on Logan early on in the competition for third string back. Knowing this, expect Francis to have more of touches early in the season. Look for Logan to play more towards the back end of the season, or possible be redshirted if the opportunities aren’t there for him this season. Neither freshman should challenge Morris for the starting job, but both could excel in backup roles this season for the Heels, or step in if there is an unfortunate injury sometime during the season.
Having four running backs will be a unique challenge for the Heels. The most recent comparison to this situation would be in 2010, when the Heels had three running backs go for more than 290 yards. Johnny White and Shaun Draughn had over 120 attempts each, per cfbstats.com, but White played in three less games and finished with around 100 more yards than Draughn. At Southern Miss, Coach Fedora did have four running backs with more than 290 yards in 2011. With Morris and Blue leading the way, UNC’s rushing attack shouldn’t see any drop off in production from last season.