The running back group of Gus Edwards, Robert Martin, Raheem Blackshear and Josh Hicks provides Rutgers depth at a position that is critical to the success of their offense. Through six games this year, Rutgers has quietly climbed to sixth in the Big Ten in rushing yards at 174 per game. Don’t expect any deviation from the game plan this week as Rutgers will look to run the ball early and often against a Purdue defense that ranks second to last in the Big Ten against the run. Of course, the offensive line will need to continue to get the push we saw last week against Illinois, but it’s certainly advantageous for Rutgers to have the option of bringing in a fresh running back on each play. Let’s take a closer look at each running back and their role this week.
Gus Edwards: The bruiser of the four backs, Edwards leads the team in rushing yards, carries, touchdowns, while producing a very respectable 4.2 yard per carry. Edwards is the tone setter and can be the difference between a short and manageable 2nd down or a 2nd down and miles. What really stands out about Edwards is that even when he gets hit at the line of scrimmage, his sheer size allows him to essentially fall forward for at least three or four yards. He’ll be relied upon this week to handle the majority of the carries with a catch or two out of the backfield as a possibility. Bonus Prediction: Gus Edwards gets his first 100 yard game of the year rushing this week.
Robert Martin: Although he has seen his carries tail off since week two, Martin still serves an important role. For one, he averages 5.2 yards rushing for his career and can also catch the ball out of the backfield. A modest seven receptions on the season, but in a system that rarely throws the ball, that number could be much lower. Look for him this week to mix in and out with Edwards or to be called upon if Edwards is struggling. I love the one-two punch of Martin and Edwards, with a very dangerous third option available.
Raheem Blackshear: Speaking of which. I absolutely love this kid. The true freshman is the most explosive of the four backs. Edwards may get the most carries per game but to me Blackshear is the more dynamic of the two backs. He may not have the strength of Edwards but when in space he becomes a dangerous threat to opposing defenses. On 24 rushing attempts this season, he is averaging 8.3 yards with a long of 41. Some will argue he is undersized listed at 5’9’’ 185lbs, but that diminutive size allows him to deceptively slip by defensive linemen. I’ve been calling for him to get an increase in carries all year but I know as a true freshman, Coach Kill will progress him along slowly (especially with the current depth). But with a Purdue defense that is very susceptible to the run, it might be a good idea to give Blackshear a few extra carries this week.
Josh Hicks: The senior comes into the game with only 12 carries on the season but is making the most of those carries for 6.5 per play. He punched in a short yardage score last week and even made a special teams tackle. I don’t see him having a huge role in the game this week which is more a reflection of just how many options Rutgers has at the position. Add the quarterbacks grabbing some running plays and Hicks kind of becomes the odd man out. But it’s certainly nice to see a player contribute in any way possible to help the team and if he does get the ball that he makes the most of it.
With four legitimate options at running back plus a behemoth of a quarterback in Johnathan Lewis on the sideline (and Giovanni Rescigno, if healthy), Coach Kill certainly has his choice of who he wants to hand the ball off to each play. And after the beating Gio took last week, it might be smart to give the ball to a few more of the aforementioned backs. This would seem to be the perfect opportunity as Purdue’s defense comes into High Point Solutions Stadium giving up 175 yards on the ground per game. And with the Rutgers offense intent on the running the ball, the outcome of the game could be predicated on upon this positional group.