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Positional Postmortem: Cougar Running Backs

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In part one of SB Nation Houston's position-by-position breakdown of the college football season that was, we take a look at the Cougar running backs.

Position Coach: Clarence McKinney. McKinney came over from Yates High in 2007 when Kevin Sumlin took over at UH. In addition to his responsibilities as running backs coach, McKinney is also Houston's recruiting coordinator.

Key Figures In 2010: Bryce Beall (junior), Michael Hayes (junior)

How It Went Down: The running back position took a big hit when Charles Sims was declared academically ineligible before the season began. Sims totaled 1,457 combined yards rushing and receiving in 2009 as a true freshman, tops on the team. Without a doubt, it was a big loss. By rule, Sims cannot take a redshirt year, so he will be a junior in 2011, assuming he gets his house in order.

McKinney's group got a boost when Michael Hayes transferred in from Blinn Junior College, however. Hayes, like Sims, was effective both running the ball (629 yards, 8 TD) and catching passes out of the backfield (30 catches, 327 yards).

The million-dollar question heading into the season was how Bryce Beall would bounce back. After putting up huge numbers as a true freshman (1,247 yards rushing, 6.3 ypc, 17 total TD), Beall saw his production take a nose dive as a sophomore in 2009. His rushing average dropped below five, and he fell from starter to playing half of the game, to full-on backup to Sims.

This year, Beall looked more like the vintage power runner Houston fans came to know and love. He started falling forward every time he got hit again - a signature of the man they call "Brick" back in 2008. His rushing average was pushed up to 5.3, and he ran for 12 scores.

The Beall-Hayes combo played quite well, as did sophomore backup Chris Wilson, when he got the chance. However, there was still a noticeable drop-off in Sims' absence. Beall and Hayes were usually effective, and had some big games, but were shut down on occasion. Sims never seemed to get shut down. He produced 75+ yards of offense in 12 of 14 games.

In the UCLA loss, Hayes and Beall combined for 29 touches, and produced just 98 yards of offense. In the Mississippi State loss, it was 61 yards on 16 touches. In the Southern Miss loss, 93 yards on 19 touches, 43 of those yards coming on one play.

Now, it's hard to examine one position in a vacuum. The running backs rely on the offensive line to open holes, and as much as Houston's running back production often comes via the screen pass, they rely on the quarterback to throw them the ball. Still, as well as I can simplify it down to just one variable, the running back production just wasn't quite where it was a year ago. Very good, but not quite the same. Call it a B+ instead of an A.

The Future: The Cougars are absolutely loaded at this position for at least the immediate future. Beall (now the program's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns) and Hayes return for their senior seasons in 2011, while Sims and Wilson will be juniors.

It's possible that Sims may move to a slot receiver position next year, to alleviate the logjam at the position. However, Sims would be in line to be the feature back on his own in 2012 if he is left at the running back position.

Who takes over after that? The Cougars have brought in a highly-touted recruit at the position each of the last two years, in Xavier Brown (who redshirted this year) and Anthony Webb (who will be a true freshman next year). Look for the two of them to be the future of the position.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.