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2014 Purdue Football Preview: Running Backs

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The good news is that Purdue's running game can't get any worse than last year.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Calling last year's rushing offense bad is an understatement. The only team in the country that ran for fewer yards than Purdue was Washington State, and that is because they have a pass-happy offense that very rarely runs at all. Purdue was allegedly trying to be a power running team and failed miserably at it.

The good news is that almost everyone is back from last season. The bad news is that almost everyone is back from a season that sucked. There is some talent at the position, but can Purdue put that talent in a position to succeed?

Potential Starters:

Akeem Hunt - Sr. - Career stats: 1,086 yards, 5 TDs. 52 receptions, 548 yards, 2 TDs

Raheem Mostert - Sr. - Career stats: 230 yards, 3TDs. 1 reception, 6 yards

We know that Hunt can be a home run hitter. He is an excellent runner in space and averaged over 8 yards per carry in his first two seasons. Then last year happened. He finished with 464 yards and only one score on 123 carries as Purdue gave him absolutely no room to operate. His 62-yard touchdown against Illinois was his only rushing score and it was the first rushing touchdown (of only two) scored by a Purdue running back. It was thought that Hunt could be a between-the-tackle runner and that was definitely not the case. At least he was a viable option out of the backfield to catch passes. There he is still averaging over 10 yards per reception.

As for Mostert, it is all on potential. Originally a receiver, almost all of his on the field contributions have been with him lined up in the backfield or as a kick returner. He spent the offseason as the fastest man in the Big Ten, winning the 100 and 200 in track. As we have seen, he only needs a hole and he is gone. He has five career touchdowns with two of them coming on kickoff returns.

Of note is that both Mostert and Hunt will likely be Purdue's primary kickoff returners, where each has a pair of returns for touchdowns. They can swing a game in a hurry on any kickoff. On offense their blinding speed is great, if they have some space.

Experienced Depth:

Brandon Cottom - Sr. - Career stats: 433 yards, 3 TDs, 14 receptions, 178 yards, 2 TDs

Cottom had a few moments last season, but he was mostly underused as Purdue continued to go with Hunt. He is our biggest back by far and can be a punishing short-yardage runner. His best game was a 12 carry, 39-yard performance at Michigan State as he did fairly well against their ridiculously tough defense. He also has the longest run from scrimmage on the entire roster with an 87 yard score.

Cottom has been a disappointment so far in camp. He has not served well as a blocker and he was used far less last season than many thought.

Redshirt Freshmen:

Keyante Green - Fr.

Keith Byars II - Fr.

David Yancey - Fr.

Of these three, Green had a solid spring and seems like the most likely one to play this season. The 4-star running back from Georgia is a compact, powerful runner that might be more suited for between the tackles than Hunt and Mostert.

Yancey is also a bigger back and may see the field as more of a fullback if he is needed. There was discussion of him playing last season, but coach Hazell never put him in and he ended up redshirting. He is also a high school teammate of Gelen Robinson.

As for Byars, he is a mystery. His dad was an Ohio State legend and played for 13 years in the NFL, so he has the pedigree, but he had 655 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior at Boca Raton HS in Florida before coming to Purdue. He played for a year in prep school, then redshirted last season, so he has been off the field for awhile.

True Freshmen:

D.J. Knox - Fr.

One player that has been a very pleasant surprise in fall camp is Knox. He burst onto the scene with a great senior year in Georgia and that led to some very late interest. The 5'7" 200 pound runner has already passed everybody but Hunt and Mostert on the depth chart it seems and he is going through practice with a lot of passion. In today's practice report from GBI Cottom, long picked to be the No. 3 back, seems to be falling out of favor, while Knox plays with fire in every practice. By all accounts he is a hard worker and could certainly avoid a redshirt.

Final Analysis:

Again, it is all for not unless the offensive line is opening holes for these guys. The loss of Kurt Freytag to graduation has opened up the fullback spot on downs where a fullback is used, so Cottom or Yancey could be in line to play there. Still, Purdue only had a net 805 yards rushing as a team last season, which was worse than 86 individual players at the FBS level. That's not just bad, it is pathetic.

Purdue has to find a way to double last year's rushing production. The result from that is twofold. First, the offense isn't one-dimensional and relying on a young quarterback to move it all the time, and second, the better you run the ball, the longer it keeps the opposing offense off the field, thus letting our own defense rest. We have some talented backs that are threats to score on every play, but they need to produce.