Just two seasons ago there were questions as to who would step up in the Miami backfield after the all-time leading rusher Duke Johnson departed. The successor would be Joe Yearby, who as a sophomore would rush for 1,000 yards, after Johnson’s departure while Mark Walton would back him up and add 11 touchdowns as a freshman. Their roles would switch going into the 2016 season with a new staff under Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. There was also another back in the stable that received a share of the carries. Gus Edwards added more depth to a loaded backfield and averaged a first down every second carry.
2016 Miami Hurricanes Position Review: Running Backs
Walton was named the team’s starting back coming out of last spring following a freshmen season in which he finished with over 1,000 all-purpose yards and added 10 total touchdowns as well. In his sophomore season, he improved by tying the third-most rushing touchdowns in school history with 14. As the primary ball carrier, he would stamp his position in the history books rushing for over 1,100 yards which places him seventh all-time as far as best single season stats. His phenomenal year also earned him All-ACC honors as well as being named the team’s most valuable player. Walton proved to be the best all-around back on the roster, he became the first running back since 2005 with a four rushing touchdown performance. He did that while also being a starter on special teams. West Virginia’s kick returner will confirm that. ESPN’s Greg McElroy even went as far as calling Walton the most “underrated player in the country.”
😴That's a running back pic.twitter.com/qT0x7DubT6
— Peter Ariz (@PeterAriz) December 29, 2016
Yearby served as the change-of-pace back for Miami, a season after being the starter as a sophomore. Argument can be made that Yearby may have outplayed Walton, and this is even after being named Team MVP. What can’t be debated is that together the two gave the Hurricanes their best chance of winning. After the first four games, they both recorded a rushing touchdown in each game and there wasn’t a big difference in yards despite Yearby receiving less reps. His touches would continue to decrease as the season went on, but even with that he made the most of it. He ended the season as the team’s leader in yards per carry and score a career high in touchdowns, essentially as the team’s third option by the end of the season. After the team’s last home game, he would declare for the NFL.
Gus “The Bus” Edwards missed last season because of a lower leg injury after it looked like he was headed for a breakout season. At 6’1, 230 pounds Edwards scored 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons as the third back. The skill set and the nickname couldn’t be any more different, although it takes more than one guy on occasions to bring down Gus, he is more of a shifty back. He is also faster than Walton and Yearby, having been measured with speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, he’s not your regular bus. After not having a role early on, Coach Brown admitted that Edwards has worked hard and that it was his fault for not giving him a role earlier. He would receive 10 carries or more in three out of the last four games and eclipse the 50 yard mark in two of those games. Edwards is set to graduate this spring where he will than be eligible to transfer to Rutgers University.
With three running backs that all have started and scored touchdowns at Miami in front of him, Homer didn’t walk into the easiest position. Being a freshman, it would have surely been easy for him to take a redshirt, but he did the complete opposite. Even knowing that there is a strong possibility that he doesn’t see any carries, Homer made his living on special teams. Coaches raved about Homer’s play on special teams, so much so that he was named special teams captain against Notre Dame. That same game, Homer went on to recover a crucial fumble on special teams that gave Miami momentum on a near comeback. Going into next season, he is the projected favorite to receive carries behind Walton due to the early departures of Miami’s other backs.
The backfield play was a strong suit for the Hurricanes last year. Having three backs who were all capable of handling the load made the game easier on other positions and coaches as well. Ironically, that same talent is the reason why two of the three are departing for the program, which now leaves Miami in a situation where one of their strengths is now an unknown. Going into next season behind Walton and Homer, there are plenty question marks. Miami was only able to sign one running back this past recruiting class in Robert Burns, who has enrolled early. Miami is currently looking for potential graduate transfers that could come and help the position out next season, but as of yet nothing has been confirmed.