Four FAU running backs are hoping to make up for the loss of the school’s most prolific rusher ever.
FAU head coach Carl Pelini is employing a running-back-by-committee approach to fill the void left by current Washington Redskins starter Alfred Morris. Morris is FAU’s all-time leader in rushing yards (3,529), rushing touchdowns (27), total touchdowns (31) and all-purpose yards (3,843).
Damian Fortner, Martese Jackson, Travis Jones and Jonathan Wallace have split the carries so far this season in offensive coordinator Brian Wright’s spread formation.
Even in training camp, Pelini understood the importance of running the ball.
“That’s been an emphasis for us. We know we have to run the football,” Pelini said. “We’re not a real deep team defensively, and the ability to be able to run and throw is important us. But we have to establish a ground game.”
Four games into the season, the four-headed monster has been a mixed bag. The crew is gaining 119 yards per game (including QB runs), but has more lost fumbles (7) than touchdowns (1). Running backs coach Kerry Dixon has constantly preached in practice the importance of protecting the ball.
“Every day we work ball security because that’s the most important thing. We always say the ball is the issue,” Dixon said. “As far as preparing for scheme-wise, they do a good job of picking up anything we put in. We use a lot of time in the classroom and a lot of walk through time to get better.”
In the game at Georgia, Fortner dashed through the Bulldogs defense untouched for a 43-yard touchdown, FAU’s longest run of the season. To Fortner, however, his accomplishment was a team effort.
“It felt good, but any success I have is just the offense’s success. It’s a team success,” Fortner said. “It was a great play call, great blocking, it’s just the little things. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole offense.”
Even though they split carries, there isn’t any jealousy between the four running backs. When Fortner scored, they were his biggest sideline supporters, which is an added reason for the success of the strategy.
“We’re all brothers on this team,” Jonathan Wallace said. “But it’s like you know [with us running backs], it’s like siamese brothers.”
Coach Dixon’s take: “Jonathan Wallace is more of our downhill guy. He’s a strong runner. He just likes to run people over. He’s not really going to try to make a juke move in the open field. He’s just going to try to bull you over. That’s what we like about him.”
Coach Dixon’s take: “Martese [Jackson] is more of a speedster. He’s small, but he’s more of a downhill guy. We like to get him going downhill as fast as he can to make people miss in the open field.”
Coach Dixon’s take: “Travis Jones, he’s a guy that can pretty much do anything on the field, so we use him a lot as far as a receiver and as a running back. He’s probably the most versatile one. He’s a little smaller than the other guys as well, so it gives us some advantages in certain ways.”
Coach Dixon’s take: “Damian Fortner is another jack-of-all-trades. He can do pretty much anything we ask him on the field, which is why he does so much. We get to see him play in a lot of different spots.”