Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Taking a Back Seat

I have always respected Matt Rivera for his hard work and determination, nothing against him but he has no business getting carries over last year's starter Bryson Sumlin. Sumlin was a 1,000 yard rusher last year, and like Rivera a former walk on. Pat Hill has always said he doesn't like running back by committee, and has held up his word in 2005. This year Wendell Mathis has stepped up his game and wrestled away the starting position in preseason and has not let it go.

Fresno State is passing the ball more and has reduced the run oriented offense from a year ago. Sumlin has seen his carries dwindle to nothing in the last three games, which had happened to be the three biggest games of the season. But even early on in the season it was evident that Sumlin was not going to share the load with Mathis.

In the second game of the season, at Oregon, Fresno State was inside the Duck 45 yard line and faced a critical third and short. The Bulldogs held a 17-6 lead, but needed to answer Oregon's touchdown or risked losing their momentum. Mathis had started and carried the bulk of the load, but Sumlin was called for this key short yardage situation. It was a simple power play up the middle, but Sumlin tried to bounce it to the outside and was tackled for a short loss. He did not see anymore playing time the rest of the game.

However, Sumlin bounced back the next week to record his first 100 yard game on the season, in the 44-14 win over Toledo. But he has been reduced to nothing more than a sideshow, carrying only two times in the last three games. The loss of fullback Roshon Vercher has somewhat diminished his role, as backup fullback Rivera has assumed a majority of the snaps Vercher would have taken.

My thought was why isn't Sumlin playing some fullback? He is bigger, stronger and more physical than Rivera. Imagine Sumlin and Mathis in the same backfield, both can run and are able to catch passes out of the backfield. Auburn excelled last year with Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams playing in the same backfield.

It seemed last year, while unprepared for the loss of starter Dwayne Wright, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was able to incorporate enough plays that allowed Sumlin and Mathis to co-exist together and form an excellent one-two punch. With the entire offseason, one would have thought some sort of plan or tweak to the offense would have allowed both of these fine running backs to line up together in at least one or two formations.

It seems the loss of running back/return specialist Clifton Smith might be a huge reason for this. Going back to the Oregon game, before Smith was injured in the first quarter, he lined up constantly with Mathis in the backfield. It was evident that Smith was going to play a vital role in the offense in that game and probably for the rest of the season. His speed and athleticism was going to be a problem for any linebacker to cover, similar to what Reggie Bush can create in the USC offense.

Since his injury, wide receivers Adam Jennings, Jaron Fairmon, and Paul Williams have all lined up in the backfield to create mismatches. Rivera has lined up in many of these formations as well, but never Sumlin and Mathis together. Why? Who knows, the coaches must know, the Bulldogs are 8-3 and just 14 points away from being unbeaten. But many are wondering why such a great running back like Bryson Sumlin is taking a back seat in a offense that he has excelled in his entire career.

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