By Greg DeVries
The spread offense is commonly associated with accurate quarterbacks and athletic wide receivers, but this year’s Baylor football team is showing that great running backs can thrive in a five-wide set.
Great college players like Graham Harrell, Chase Daniel, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden have all made their names famous by being prolific passers in high-powered Big 12 offenses.
They all had wide receivers that could make unbelievable catches over the coverage. Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Kendall Wright, and Justin Blackmon were all the recipients of these talented quarterbacks, but the running backs of these teams have faded into obscurity.
Baron Batch was drafted 232nd overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was released last month after minimal production. Derrick Washington never had a senior season after having legal trouble. Terrance Ganaway was drafted by the New York Jets, but was waived at the end of August. The Rams have since claimed him, but he has yet to be the go-to guy. Joseph Randle has had a great year, but he has never been the go-to guy in an offense.
The emergence of sophomore running back Lache Seastrunk has changed the way that Baylor executes its offense. Seastrunk only had a few carries on the year before he burst onto the scene against the Kansas Jayhawks with 194 total yards and a touchdown.
His combination of size and quickness is very rare, and his 5-feet-10-inch, 205-pound frame suggests that he could make a living as an NFL running back someday. He also plays with an immense amount of heart. This was never more evident than in his 76-yard touchdown run with five minutes left against Oklahoma State where he broke through to the secondary and ran into the end zone despite having a cramp.
“It was one of those real good Charlie horses that [you get when] you sleep, a good deep sleep, then you wake up about to cry because it hurts so bad,” Seastrunk said. “Basically, it felt like I was in Call of Duty and somebody sniped me.”
Junior running back Glasco Martin has also picked up his game since the running game reformation. Martin, who has six touchdowns since the Kansas game, prefers running out of a spread offense because of the spacing on the field.
“I think its easier to run the ball out of the spread just because there aren’t as many people in the box,” Martin said. “It gives us a little more space to run.”
With a more spread out field, running backs can more easily take defenders on. In a two-tight end set, running backs have to rely on their blockers and hit the holes when they open up.
When five wide receivers take defenders deep down the field, a running back can use the extra space to maneuver. This allows Seastrunk to use his ability to change direction. In space, Martin can gather speed and run through smaller cornerbacks. Blocking is still important, but a running back can showcase his natural ability when the field is spread out.
Senior quarterback Nick Florence has used the running game to his advantage. Florence has always been able to tuck the ball and take it himself, but many of his best rushing games have some since the Kansas game. Florence has also recorded one rushing touchdown in each of the last five games.
Florence has also kept his turnovers down since the Kansas game. A reliance on the passing game forces Florence to force plays that may or may not be there. Since Baylor’s homecoming win against Kansas, Florence’s two interceptions against Kansas State have been his only interceptions in the last five games.
His passing touchdowns may have dropped off a little bit, but a balanced team has reintroduced Baylor to the win column. An air raid offense might be fun to watch, but running the ball out of the spread has brought Baylor three straight wins. Four weeks ago, that seemed out of reach.