UNIT PREVIEW: Running Backs

Senior RB Dwight Tardy looks to return to his pre-injury form this season for the Cougars (AP).

 Part three in a seven-part series previewing the Cougs' offensive and defensive units.


Saturday: Offensive Line
Monday: Defensive Line
Today: Running Backs
Friday: Linebackers

Overview

This is one unit where Coug fans can proclaim to all that are listening, "We have Pac 10 depth there!"  Dwight Tardy has proven he can gain yards and make plays if given the opportunity to advance to the line of scrimmage before getting gang-tackled.  James Montgomery's biggest problem at Cal was that he wasn't as good as Jahvid Best, Marshawn Lynch, etc.  Logwone Mitz has size and possesses the ability to break off a big gain (see: Apple Cup!).

Paul Wulff likes to run the football.  He can do so with this group.  There will not be anyone taking the ball 40 times a game a la Jerome Harrison, but a running back by committee approach seems like a very exciting option.  The Cougs will have the luxury of a talented back with fresh legs in there on every play.  Maybe, just maybe, Dwight or James or one of the other guys will get really hot one game and we will ride him to an upset over (insert Pac 10 team here.)

The success of the running game is contingent on the unit that lines up directly in front of them.  If the offensive line cannot open up holes, the talent the Cougs have in the backfield will not matter one bit.  On the flipside, if the offensive line does do its job, the Wazzu offensive could see a significant improvement over last year. 

Depth Chart

String Name
1 Dwight Tardy (5-10, 208, #Sr.)
2 James Montgomery (5-10, 202, #Jr.)
3 Marcus Richmond (6-1, 220, #Jr.)
4 Logwone Mitz (6-1, 224, #So.)
5 Chantz Staden (5-10, 202, #Sr.)



Key Player

We've seen what Dwight Tardy can do.  We've seen what Logwone Mitz can do.  We've even seen what Chantz Staden cannot do.  The guy that could really shake things up is James Montgomery.  If James shows some of that ability that got him a few carries in the crowded Cal backfield his sophomore year, we might see the next Cougar star at running back. 

Montgomery could also be very average.  That would give WSU a backfield full of average Pac 10 talent.  That is not so bad compared to what can be seen across the rest of the depth chart, but it sure would be a lot more fun this year for Coug fans if James Montgomery would step up and be The Man.

Biggest Question Mark

Health.  More specifically Dwight Tardy's health.  Remember that play against USC three years ago when Dwight bounced it outside and dove for the goal line to score a key fourth quarter touchdown?  Tardy's postgame celebration knee injury the next year against UCLA ensured that he would be doing nothing of the same in 2008.  Dwight was almost exclusively a north-south runner last year and he was visibly slower in getting started.  Will that extra bounce in his step return after being one more year removed from major knee surgery?

Best Case Scenario

Holes, holes, holes!  The youthful Cougar offensive line is a pleasant surprise as Dwight, James, and company are able to make some big plays and move the chains.  Because of this, Paul Wulff is able to implement his no-huddle offense and Washington State is once again an entertaining team to watch on the offensive side of the ball.  Dwight is back to 100%, James is making Cal wish he never would have left, and the running game is able to take some pressure off of the struggling passing game.  The Cougs' ability to pound the ball directly benefits the defense, as they are able to enjoy the game from the bench for a little bit longer.  Several times throughout the season, Wazzu has more than one back go for 100 yards in a single game.

Worst Case Scenario

Dwight reinjures his knee against Stanford, James is a severe disappointment, and there is no room for the running backs to work as the offensive line of 2009 resembles the offensive line of 2008.  For the second consecutive year, Paul Wulff is left with no choice but to abandon the no-huddle in an effort to make the inevitable 3-and-outs last a little bit longer.  Opposing teams, left with no fear of the big play from the running game, are free to blitz the quarterback at will.  Extra medical staff and ambulances are kept on the sidelines in anticapation of catastrophic injuries to Cougar quarterbacks.

Likely Scenario

This running back group is definitely talented.  The offensive line will show some improvement this year and the three runs and punt strategy of last year will be gone.  The ground game will be effective enough for the no-huddle to be used.  Dwight Tardy will not be the same as he was before the surgery, but he should be improved over last year.  He and James Montgomery will split carries and both make their fair share of plays.  Logwone Mitz will be a nice change of pace back and break off a big one here and there.  The Washington State offense will (gasp!) score some points and the 8+ touchdown slaughters will be kept to a minimum.

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