Miami head football coach Chuck Martin loves “chunk yardage.” As long as it’s his team moving the sticks, he’ll take those chunk plays either way – through the air or via runs. If MU can keep improving, Martin might just get some of those big plays from his running game this season. That, to put it mildly, would be a much-welcomed sight.
While the RedHawks found . . .
No doubt part of the issue is related to building an offensive line, especially from the situation Martin found upon his arrival. Such a task typically takes time, even with a determined effort. If Martin is anything, he is determined, and he quickly focused on the RedHawks problems in the trenches. Talent and depth for the offensive line has been a key component of recent recruiting classes. Emphasis on strength and conditioning has also been a major focus.
Though they are still very young up front, the RedHawks may be starting to show signs of mounting that elusive running game. Miami ranked 12th among MAC teams in rushing last year, averaging 129.67 ypg. But that was up almost 30 yards from the previous season. Moreover, it averaged 166.0 ypg on the ground over the final three contests and was at 176 ypg through six home tilts.
Three of the RedHawks seven rushing touchdowns on the year came in the final three games as Miami posted two wins in that span. MU registered 291 yards – a season high – in a 28-13 win against Eastern Michigan to start November. It closed the year with a narrow 20-13 victory over UMass, aided by 139 rushing yards with a TD.
The RedHawks run weaponry this fall will featue a stable of young running backs. Most were freshman in 2015. Among them was Alonzo Smith, who led the way with 498 yards on 124 attempts with five TDs. He averaged 4.02 yards per carry.
Among the biggest prospects for some serious chunk yardage, however, is Maurice Thomas. The sophomore-to-be is about as home grown as it gets, having graduated from Talawanda High School in Oxford. He was known for his speed there, and was able to show flashes of that speed in his first collegiate action last season.
Thomas didn’t get his first carry until Game Six and totaled just 18 carries for 206 yards – averaging 11.4 yards per haul. His biggest gain was a 77-yard burst against Eastern Michigan.
More evidence of his blazing speed came on kickoff returns. He had one TD return wiped out by a penalty and nearly broke several other trips.
“I love kickoff returns,” Thomas said Saturday. It (can be) one of the biggest plays of the game, and its how you set the tone. (Also), starting from the 50 instead of starting from the 20 is a game changer. Field position is always really big.”
The RedHawks have several questions on special teams this coming season, but Martin likes the obvious answer for kickoff returns. “He’s electric,” said the coach.
“Being dynamic is a key part of being in this offense,” Thomas said. “Knowing all the plays and all the positions and being able to do it to the best of your ability is definitely something I’ve worked on.”
Another point of emphasis has been “getting vertical.”
“Thomas, who carries about 180 pounds on his 5-11 frame, is embracing that theme. “I’ve definitely seen strides in my downhill running,” he said. “One of the big things our coach stresses is power and getting … vertical as quick as you can.
In terms of the ground game’s big picture, last year’s late season success and spring work has left Thomas optimistic.
“The running game is definitely going to be a big part of our offense this year,” he said.
In the past, Martin has stressed the need for a powerful running attack to, among other things, pick up critical first downs and pound the ball in the red zone. MU is trending in that direction. At the same time, there’s always room for chunk plays, and Thomas has the kind of speed that can produce those kind of moments.