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Position Preview: Indiana looking for consistency in new blood at running back

Indiana has had a good history at running back with the likes of Jordan Howard and Tevin Coleman but since then it’s been a struggle to really find the star. That search will continue this season. 

While the running back room loses Stevie Scott and now with the recent entering into the transfer portal from Sampson James, it adds and returns some talent. There are about two guys who really set themselves apart pre-season and will get the most carries but which one of them will be the featured back? That’s the million dollar question right now. 

Indiana running backs excelled when running to the right end of the offensive line last year, totaling 203 yards on 34 rushes. That’s an astonishing 6 yards per attempt. However, on the other side of the line it was a different story. The Hoosiers averaged 3.8 yards per attempt on the left end of the offensive line. This became extremely predictable for defenses to stop and clog. We’ll discuss this discrepancy and why it happened more when we focus on the offensive and defensive line’s position preview. 

Also, think about how a balanced run game can open up the rest of the Indiana offensive game as well. In 2020 Indiana’s play-action percentage (24.5%) was 90th in the FBS. Defenses simply knew play action likely wasn’t coming. If play actions can draw the defense’s secondary in it opens up the perimeter greatly for Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall. 

A more balanced and unpredictable offense and run game are needed in 2021 in order for the Hoosiers to succeed. 

BLOOMINGTON, IN – AUGUST 11, 2021 – Indiana Hoosiers associate Head Coach and running backs coach Deland McCullough during fall camp at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN. Photo by Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics

While it’s important to have depth at running back I honestly think one of the Hoosiers’ biggest needs is finding consistency in the run game. They need a guy who can go out there and get them yards consistently and when they need them. Now, without Stevie Scott and the supposed transfer of Sampson James, some new blood will see A LOT more touches this season. Let’s go through who will get the carries this year. 

Primary ballcarriers

Stephen Carr

One of the biggest additions to the roster this season is transfer running back Stephen Carr. The former USC Trojan has put up the best career numbers compared to the rest of the running back room.

First of all, Carr was the 20th best player overall in the class of 2017. The California native is the only former five-star recruit on the current Indiana roster. 

BLOOMINGTON, IN – AUGUST 09, 2021 – running back Stephen Carr #5 of the Indiana Hoosiers during fall camp at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN. Photo by Gracie Farrall/Indiana Athletics

Secondly, in his time at USC, Carr had 264 carries, 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns. Carr is also competent in the pass game catching 57 passes for 421 yards and one touchdown. 

Looking at the numbers it’s evident that Carr is proven when he gets touches, but being new to the team in May he’s going to have to really earn his spot this fall. 

When you watch Carr’s tape, there’s no doubt he’s talented. He hits the hole hard, uses his eyes well when directing down field, and doesn’t shy away from contact.

Although, injuries concern me with Carr. After an electric freshman season the running back suffered a herniated disc which really derailed him from asserting himself as RB1 on the depth chart his sophomore year. If he can stay healthy and on the field I expect Carr to fit in very nicely in the Hoosiers’ offense and be a featured back. 

Tim Baldwin Jr.

Tim Baldwin Jr. broke out for the Hoosiers towards the end of the 2020 season and showed competence. The Virginia native only played in four games, rushing 22 times for 141 yards. Baldwin had his best game against Maryland rushing for 106 yards.  

Baldwin wasn’t the highest-rated recruit out of high school, being ranked 985th in the country by 247Sports but proved it on the field last year. He hits the hole hard and has very quick feet. Frankly, he reminds me a lot of Stevie Scott.

The running back clearly had a very nice spring as on the mid-summer depth chart he was listed as running back one ahead of Sampson James and Stephen Carr. I expect Baldwin to easily be top three on the team in carries but most importantly his youth and skillset are extremely promising looking forward. 

Baldwin rated extremely well in pass protection in 2020 according to Pro Football Focus with a 78.4 grade. With the 14th best o-line in the Big Ten and I expect the pass blocking to be a huge part of the way Tom Allen and Deland McCullough scout the running backs. Look for this stat in particular to earn Baldwin carries and playing time in itself.

So who’s next?

It’s a shame that Sampson James entered the transfer portal but he really struggled finding his footing in his first two seasons. Now, James has entered the transfer portal before but decided to return to IU. The former four-star can still return but the closer we get to week one, that becomes more and more unlikely. This is a major hit at Indiana’s depth at the position but guys such as David Ellis and Charlie Spegal intrigue me for who’s next up. 

Ellis converted to running back from receiver and the athlete can really do it all. I see him playing more of a flex role in the offense this year but I see a lot more carries this year than in previous seasons. The junior is a huge receiving threat out of the backfield as well which is monumental in adding another element to the offense.

As for Charlie Spegal, I actually see a good amount of carries this season. While he was a redshirt walk on last year, he was extremely impressive in high school. Spegal was named 2019 Indiana Mr. Football and Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year. He holds state records in career points, career rushing yards with 10,867, single-season rushing touchdowns, and single-season total TDs. Phew. That’s a mouthful. The redshirt freshman wasn’t even rated out of high school and if hard work can earn him some reps in practice off the scout team, it can certainly earn him reps on the field. 

The aura of earning your spot and that nothing is given has been the ethos of running backs coach and assistant head coach Deland McCullough has embodied heading into the fall. Even Carr, a former five-star recruit who was coached by McCullough at USC, will have to secure his playing time.  

While the departures of James and Scott do concern me, I really do expect a breakout sophomore campaign from Baldwin. I think the duo of him and Carr has the potential to be lethal in the Big Ten. Experience along with youth seems to be the theme of IU running backs but only time will tell if they can consistently put it together on the field.  Who will be the guy? Well, we’ll see, it’s gonna be a battle in these weeks leading up to week one.

Previous position previews

Secondary, Wide Receivers

One Comment

  • Mark Newlin says:

    IU has a number of RBs that could step up Holoman has elite speed running a 40 4.22, Ervin-Poindexter has received praise this Spring. When Howland gets 100% healthy he could figure in to the RB rotation this season. I expect we will see three RBs get the majority of run so we will see who rises to the top this Fall.

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