No. 19 Cougars opting for running-back-by-committee approach as Utah State visits Thursday
Cal transfer Chris Brooks, steady senior Lopini Katoa and fab freshman Miles Davis all contributing to BYU’s rushing attack
BYU rode workhorse running back Tyler Allgeier to a lot of success last year, particularly in the game in Logan against Utah State when the current Atlanta Falcons rookie rushed for a career-high 218 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-20 win.
Allgeier topped that with a 266-yard performance against Virginia and finished the year with a school single-season record of 1,606 rushing yards on 276 carries.
So when the Cougars added a similarly built running back from California via the transfer portal last winter, it was widely assumed in Provo that Chris Brooks would inherit Allgeier’s role and carries.
“We will do it by committee right now and see who is going to give us the best chance to get this running game going.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.
But it hasn’t happened.
If the recent 38-24 win over Wyoming is any indication, the Cougars are using a running-back-by-committee approach this year. As head coach Kalani Sitake said after the game, the Cougars are going to go with the “hot hand” and work from there.
“We will do it by committee right now and see who is going to give us the best chance to get this running game going,” Sitake said.
So when the depth chart for this Thursday’s rematch with the Aggies (6 p.m. MDT, ESPN) came out, it was no surprise to see Brooks, senior Lopini Katoa and redshirt freshman Miles Davis listed as co-starters at the RB1 spot.
Davis had 131 yards on 13 carries last Saturday, while Katoa had 17 on five carries and Brooks 10 on two carries. Brooks remains the team rushing leader with 38 carries for 204 yards, while Davis is averaging 8.0 yards per carry, best on the team (among running backs) by 2.6 yards.
Has Brooks fallen out of favor? Not necessarily, Sitake said during his weekly press briefing Monday, and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick concurred on his “Coordinators’ Corner” program.
“All those backs are getting opportunities. Yeah, we will see how it goes this week, and how it goes during the game,” Sitake said. “We have basically a running backs room (where) we need all those guys to participate, and utilize their strengths.”
Sitake said Brooks, Katoa and Miles “can do it all” and he has confidence in all three.
“This is a good opportunity to see who can step up and make big plays for us,” Sitake said.
Against South Florida, that was Brooks, who reeled off a 52-yard TD run. Against Baylor and Oregon, the running game never got going. Against Wyoming, Davis had that 70-yarder in a breakout performance.
Recruited to BYU out of Las Vegas as a receiver or defensive back, Davis has added weight and muscle to an athletic, 6-foot-2 frame, Sitake said.
“He is a big-time sprinter, too. He can run the 400 meters really well. So he’s got running in his background. I think he’s learning the game of football. His football IQ is increasing. But he just loves being on the field. He loves the challenge to get bigger, get stronger,” Sitake said. “He has put in tons of work, overcome injury, and I am just really happy to see the stuff he is doing on the field right now.”
Roderick said the hot-hand philosophy has some merit, but also acknowledged that Davis was supposed to get more touches in the Oregon game before the Cougars fell behind 24-7 at halftime.
“We just carried that plan over into (Wyoming) week,” Roderick said. “It wasn’t anything that anybody did wrong, and it wasn’t specifically for Wyoming. It is just that Miles deserved an opportunity. He didn’t get it last week and I wanted to keep my promise and give it to him this week.”
Roderick said all three backs can do everything in the offense, although they all have different frames, different running styles.
“We are going to play all three of those guys. You will see them all. It is not like anybody is fired or anything like that,” Roderick said. “It was a situation where Miles got hot and we thought it was good to keep giving him the ball. There were no long faces on the sideline from anybody. Everyone was happy for him. Maybe next game it is somebody else that gets it rolling. That’s just how it is.”