There’s no denying the quick turnaround that Rich Rodriguez has achieved with the Arizona Wildcats in his two seasons in Tucson. But for everything he’s accomplished so far, he’s got some major questions to answer about his team heading into the 2014 season. While the quarterback race has been well documented, the bigger issue for Arizona might be their total lack of experience at running back.
It’s been awhile since Arizona had to worry about the running back position thanks to the exploits of Ka’Deem Carey, who emerged as one of the nation’s best runners the last two seasons. But his decision to declare early for the NFL has put the Cats into quite the pickle. Not only does the team lose Carey and his 3,814 rushing yards since 2012, they lose their next two leading rushers, quarterback B.J. Denker and running back Daniel Jenkins, to graduation.
In fact, the only running back on the roster who recorded a carry last season will be junior Jared Baker who saw very limited action, rushing for 127 yards on 27 carries. But Baker is no guarantee to step up into the featured role after he missed the spring with an injury he suffered against the Arizona State Sun Devils last season. That leaves Arizona to split carries between Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby, who have combined for zero carries in their collegiate career.
The already thin group has suffered setbacks to their depth already as well. Redshirt freshman Pierre Cormier, a talented prospect out of high school, has ended his football career for medical reasons and incoming freshman Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared by the NCAA. Rodriguez has built his success at Arizona on the running game but will struggle to find a running back to turn to in 2014.
Someone from this group of untested backs will have to step up in a major way this fall to provide some balance for the Arizona attack. The Cats are helped by a deep stable of wide receivers (some of which may line up behind center a few times per game) which should help open things up between the tackles for the running game. Still, finding a guy who can step up as a workhorse like the Wildcats are used to may be next to impossible in 2014. Will a lack of starpower in the backfield cause trouble for Arizona this fall?