Rutgers rediscovers the running back platoon

NEW BRUNSWICK NJ - SEPTEMBER 02: Joe Martinek #38 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights runs the ball against the Norfolk State Spartans at Rutgers Stadium on September 2 2010 in New Brunswick New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights beat the Spartans 31 - 0. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Here is a game by game comparison of carries given to running backs Joe Martinek and Jordan Thomas.

Jordan Thomas
Joe Martinek
Norfolk St.

This table makes clear that there has been a relatively even split of carries between the two tailbacks, although the team is running less (which may have something to do with playing from behind the past three games). It is also apparent that in each game the coaching staff is finding carries for both backs.

This represents a departure from recent history. Martinek received 49% of the team's non-Sanu carries last season, and backup Jourdan Brooks did not see many substantive carries outside of the Maryland game. His playing time was increasingly reduced as the season wore on and Rutgers turned to the Wildcat to generate a rushing attack. That was in continuation of a theme from past seasons:

Greg Schiano never seems to be comfortable with splitting carries in an individual game, preferring to ride the hot hand (with 2008 being an even starker example.) Over the past few years, it's been baffling to see backs feature heavily in the game plan one week and then disappear the next. Especially when the word out of practice was usually that there wasn't any clear separation at the position. Note: this isn't taking into account special packages like third downs (for Kordell Young), or goal line (Brooks last year). This is about throwing a back in for a series or two, then giving the understudy a try, and alternating throughout the course of a game.

It makes sense if the Martinek's carries are limited right now. With his injury, Joe probably can't hold up for 20+ a game. I bet a lot of it has to do with the poor offensive line play too. Thomas doesn't have a lot of power, and is more of a boom-or-bust back than a consistent chains mover. He brings wide receiver speed to the table though, so with Jordan in, there is always at least the chance of breaking a long run.

Backup De'Antwan Williams still hasn't seen the field out of garbage time, but it's fair to ask what is going to happen if true freshman Casey Turner returns to health in the next few weeks and does not take a medical redshirt for the year. He comes touted as much more of a traditional back than Thomas, and had momentarily impressed in fall training camp before getting hurt. If Turner can get up to speed in time, can help the team win games, and stands a good chance to play (there's no sense in burning his redshirt for garbage time duty), then by all means he should see the field. If Williams is never going to play, Rutgers is a pretty thin right now behind Thomas and Martinek, and could at least use the depth. Whether that means a three-headed monster in the backfield is anybody's guess.

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