Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Sum of Sumlin

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?


Anonymous said...

Some players just seem to fall out of favor with Hill. It happened with Sumlin. It happened with Kendall Edwards and again, what about Fontenot? For whatever reason it seems like Hill ignores certain players and once that happen, you're done. It made no sense keeping Sumlin on the bench. He is a different style runner the Mathis and switching things up could've helped keep defenses on their tows. Maybe Cignetti was part of it too. He might be the most boring offensive coordinator of all time. I can't get a 3rd and goal from the 8-yard line against Oregon out of my mind. They ran the ball. What?! Why? Boring Cignetti.

gabeeg said...

that was always a mystery to me also...it was of such glaring strangeness that I just have to believe there was some good or seemingly good reason to the coaches.

Is it possible that there was an attitude problem? Did he practice poorly? Was there nagging injuries?

I never remember hearing Sumlin bitch about his role...but he could not have been too elated.

Hill did seem a little tight lipped the couple of times I heard or read about a similar question being posed to him...usually a couple lines about Mathis doing a good/great job or in defense of Mathis along the lines of one poor or seemingly poor game is not a reason to start messing with the rotation yet.

I admit...I really would like to know the scoop.

mdg said...

I think every Bulldog fans would like to know the scoop...

......inside Pat Hill's head, on the next Geraldo.....

gofsudogs2006 said...

If there has ever been a situation at Fresno State that absolutely pissed me off this one is that situation. All season i sat in the stands wondering where Sumlin was. I bitched and moaned from the stands when we continually handed the ball off to Matt Rivera. I have nothing against Rivera but he is not a power RB and Sumlin was. I am a fan of Mathis as i do think he is one of the more talented RB's state has had come through the program, but honestly Sumlin's numbers cannot be ignored.

How many times did Sumlin make a run where he would get hit five or six times but keep on motoring? I do not blame him for fumbling against La. Tech because he had played so little up to that point that you have to wonder if he was even fresh to go into the game. Pat Hill screwed the situation and this is one of those things that I don't forgive coaches for. You have talented players so play them. if Sumlin goes pro I seriously hope he makes a name for himself. He deserves to be there alongside Mathis because they were both outstanding, Hill just chooses favorites and sticks with them. Isn't that obvious from the Pinegar situation?

mdg said...

come on gofsu, Pat Hill doesn't choose favorites,lol....Hill does his best to put the players on the field that give his team the best chance to win games, but sometimes I wonder......I will go back to 2003 when FS was hosting #20 Boise State and Ryan Dinwiddie was shredded the secondary apart. Awan Diles was being taken to school by Tim Giligan, among others. Ray Washington did his best and Marshall and McCauley were just rFr, but why in the hell was Kendall Edwards sitting on the bench. He was the best corner, so what if he missed the Tennesse game because of the birth of his son, or was he in the doghouse for something else? Anways, what ticked me off even more was the fact that Diles was playing hurt...WTF? A hurt corner that was continually getting burn, when the team's best corner was sitting on the bench. Edwards almost made the NFL despite playin in just 3 games his senior year. Sumlin should have a better chance, especially if he can gain some weight and double as a FB/3rd down back.