Josh Snead averaged a team-best 4.9 yards per carry and rushed for a personal season-high 83 yards against then top-ranked Alabama in 2010.
Photo Courtesy: Duke Photography
DURHAM, N.C. – After posting the school’s highest rushing yardage total since 2005, Duke hopes to build on its success in 2011 with the return of the entire running back corps.
Last season, the Blue Devils made significant strides in improving its ground attack, increasing totals for rushing yards per game (+46.5), yards per attempt (+1.2) and total rushing touchdowns (+13) from the previous season. Four running backs – Jay Hollingsworth, Desmond Scott, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson – logged 25 or more rushing attempts apiece and the quartet combined to gain for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns on 235 attempts – good for an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
Add Patrick Kurunwune, who saw limited action in 2010 but rushed for 154 yards on eight carries in a scrimmage earlier this spring, to the mix and Duke has five backs who have earned the trust of the coaching staff.
“You can never have enough backs,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “I’ve heard a couple of young coaches say ‘Well, I’ve got too many backs.’ Well, you better be careful. That’s one of those statements that will bite you later. We’ll need all of these guys – there’s no question about that.”
Scott led the Blue Devils in rushing last season, picking up 530 yards on 120 attempts, and added 34 pass receptions for an additional 266 yards. Snead averaged a team-best 4.9 yards per carry and rushed for a personal season-high 83 yards against then top-ranked Alabama. Scott’s season total was the highest by a Blue Devil back since Chris Douglas rushed for 1,138 yards in 2003 while Snead’s average per rush marked Duke’s best by a player with at least 45 carries since 1997 when Laymarr Marshall picked up 5.1 yards per attempt.
In addition, Scott, Snead and Thompson played instrumental roles on Duke’s kickoff return unit that ranked fourth in the league with a 20.9 yards per return average. Individually, Snead (22.0) and Thompson (21.7) finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the league.
“If I had to pick one thing that I was most pleased about watching the tape over spring break, it was our running backs,” said Cutcliffe. “And we’ve obviously got some guys banged up. Jay Hollingsworth missed some time. Josh Snead missed some time. But the thing you keep seeing is that our guys are making plays. The biggest thing when I think of our running backs right now is their quickness and speed. We’ve improved in that area a great deal. I’m really excited about what I think they can do as a group.
“All five of them are going to contribute,” Cutcliffe continued. “You know that going in, and I think they feel good about that. I think they feel good about themselves. And the other part that’s so special is that they’re a close-knit group. It’s not something they’re faking. They really enjoy each other’s success. And that’s kind of a snap shot of our team. Most of the time when you get running backs in the same room, all they want is the ball. And I think that’s kind of a symbol of our team. What they want are wins. What they want is success for our team, and I like that about that group.”
Duke quarterback Sean Renfree likes the versatility of the unit.
“This group of backs can do so many different things,” said Renfree. “They can catch the ball out of the backfield. They can block in pass protection. They can obviously run the football. We have a lot of confidence in them.”