More than a few eyebrows were raised when redshirt freshman running backs Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks soared to the top of the depth chart this fall, past incumbents Marcus Mason (senior) and Teondray Caldwell (junior), without ever having played a college game.
As close to a must-win as you can get
WSU is sitting at a miserable 1-3 record as they prepare to take the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium against Utah on Saturday. If the Cougs have a chance to turnaround the fortunes of the 2014 season, they need a win.
Mason and Caldwell were steady performers for WSU last season. They each averaged around 5 yards per carry, and Mark even wrote an ode to Mason's development -- the running back had played football for just a year before coming to WSU, but had turned into one of the Cougars' most productive players.
Fast forward to today, and Mason has more tackles (four, all on special teams) than carries (zero). Caldwell switched to safety in response to his drop on the depth chart, and has now left the program altogether.
Four games in, Morrow and Wicks are showing why the staff's faith in them is justified.
Each got off to a bit of a slow start as the offense found its sea legs, and while the consistency in the running game still isn't there, both flashed their tantalizing ability on Saturday against Oregon and showing just what it is that caused them to pass a couple of known quantities.
Let's take a look at some of the highlights.
We already covered this play in The Monday After, but it's worth repeating here. Morrow's quickness -- something that will be a theme through these highlights -- leaves the Oregon defender wondering where he's just gone. He turns a possible tackle short of the line to gain into 10 more yards and a first down:
Morrow doesn't just have jukes. Check out the way he bursts through no fewer than four defenders who think they have a bead on him, parting them like the Red Sea:
The replay angle shows even better just how surprised the Duck defenders are to find out they don't actually have Morrow boxed in. That acceleration, man.
This might be my favorite play by Morrow. Explosive plays are great, but sometimes the biggest plays are the plays that just move the chains:
Oregon had Morrow dead to rights. Previous running backs likely would have just tried to put their heads down and run though contact to the line -- likely with suboptimal results. Morrow is able to win his one-on-one matchup, and two plays later, Connor Halliday found Rickey Galvin for the game-tying touchdown.
Morrow hasn't had a ton of success in the running game yet, likely because he operates best in space and the offensive line isn't yet opening up large holes with regularity. Still, his speed is an asset in the right situation. Check out how he gets wide, runs through one arm tackle, and then is able to accelerate past an out-of-position defender:
While Morrow is getting the lion's share of the touches, Wicks has brought value as well. His per-rush number is higher (4.0 to 3.8), and at 5-11/211, he's much better suited to get hard yards up the middle:
Notice the subtle cut in the backfield as he reads where the hole is? He then is able to run through a couple of arm tackles to pick up five extra yards.
I'm being truthful when I say that I loved what Mason brought to the Cougs last year. And if something were to happen to one of these guys to force him back into action, I'd be totally confident that he'd be a productive player once again. But to see how Morrow and Wicks are progressing, and to think they're only freshmen ... it's exciting to think about the future.