That was the headline all year in every Fresno State football game release detailing Bryson Sumlin's career rushing yards. Sumlin started his career at Fresno State as a walk on defensive back from Bakersfield. In 2002, as a freshman, he made the move back to his desired position, running back, a position that had little depth that year. He impressed enough to eventually tally 249 yards as Rodney Davis' back up. He continued to shine as a sophomore, out gaining Davis, totaling 509 yards and led the team with 9 rushing touchdowns, while backing up Dwayne Wright.
2004 was his break out year, but at the misfortune of a season ending injury to Wright, in the second game of the year against Kansas State. Ironically, it was against K-State that the Wildcat coaches were amazed that Sumlin was not the starter, as he continually pounded their defense with punishing runs. Sumlin assumed the starting spot for 8 of the next 10 games, while sharing the bulk of the carries with Wendell Mathis. Sumlin rushed for 1,104 yards and 13 touchdowns, which led the team in both catergories.
In 2005 Sumlin and Mathis were destined to be the most imposing Bulldog tailback tandem since Ron Rivers and Anthony Daigle. Wright was supposed to return last year, but sat out to get healthy and the loss of Clifton Smith to injury compounded the issue of Sumlin and Mathis being the "guys". However, Sumlin and Mathis never developed into a "tandem". Pat Hill likes to have one power back to get a bulk of the carries, like Paris Gaines in 2001 and Davis in 2002. In 2003 Davis never got on track, and Wright assumed the starting role by the 3rd or 4th game. 2004 was Wright's year, before getting injured, but Sumlin shared the load against K-State while Mathis was a distant 3rd on the depth chart. Wright's injury opened the door for Sumlin and Mathis and they became the most productive running back duo in Bulldog history.
It would seem Hill would want to continue to "share the load" at running back, but it goes against his style of play. It was evident early on when Sumlin was non-existent against Oregon, getting only one more carry, after botching a key 3rd and 1 inside Duck territory in the 2nd quarter. Yet, it was Sumlin who woke up the Bulldog offense in the next game against Toledo when Mathis was ineffective. It was by far Sumlin's best game of the year, rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown and catching 2 ball for 41 yards another score. Sumlin would gain over 100 yards only once more, against New Mexico State, and completely fell off the radar after the win against Boise State.
Sumlin, who rushed for 61 yards on 10 carries against BSU, totaled only 3 yards on 2 carries the next three games against USC, Nevada and Louisiana Tech, and all the carries came against LA Tech. Throw in his game against Oregon, and in Fresno State's 4 regular season losses, Fresno State's leading rusher from 2004 totaled only 4 carries for 4 yards. Huh? Sumlin did get 11 rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl vs Tulsa. But the damage was done, what happened to the Sum of Sumlin?
In Hill's defense Mathis was a great back, had a stellar senior year, and was named first team all-WAC. However, in the last 3 regular season games 3rd down/passing situation back Matt Rivera got more carries and playing time than Sumlin. In fact it was Rivera, listed as 2nd string fullback on the depth chart, that emerged as the No. 2 running back in the last three games, rushing for 44 yards on 11 carries. In terms of effort vs talent, there is no one better in the nation than Rivera was last year. He does the most with his given ability, but at the expense of having Sumlin on the bench? Was Vercher's injury that much of an impact that eliminated it Sumlin and power formations? If so then what about the Oregon game?
Rivera is widely considered the best receiver out of the backfield, so any situation where Fresno State is in a hurry up formation(Oregon, USC, Nevada, LA Tech) he is usually in the backfield. As well, Smith's injury forced Rivera into many packages that Smith would have filled. But is that a position that Sumlin could have filled?
I remember Sumlin not being such a bad receiver out of the backfield, himself. His 44 yard touchdown reception off a screen in 2003 against UCLA, in the mud, was impressive. As was his 20 yard touchdown reception against Toledo last year that sparked an inept offense. Even his bio at gobulldogs.com, states....is very good at coming out of the backfield to catch passes. What makes it even more interesting is his NFL prospect file by the NFL Experts at Scout.com. (requires subscription) For those who do not have a subscription, a couple of phrases that stand out:
Effective blocker in pass protection............Sumlin could fit in as a third down back/special teams player in the NFL.
WTF? If he is being projected as a "third down" back at the next level that can block in pass protection, why in the hell did Rivera fill "that" role the last couple of seasons? No offense to Rivera, I loved the guy, but what happened to the Sum of Sumlin?