With the season coming to a close and not with the most ideal end, there is still plenty to be happy about and excited for the future of Clemson football. With the offseason just now starting, let's take a look at one of the stronger units of the 2015 football team: the running backs.
- Sophomore Wayne Gallman
- Senior Zac Brooks
- Freshman C.J. Fuller
- Sophomore Tyshon Dye
- Sophomore Adam Choice
- Senior C.J. Davidson
- Senior Brennan Goodnature
Sophomore Wayne Gallman was the lead back for a group of running backs' that rushed for 2,089 yards, 19 touchdowns, and had an average of 5.07 yards per rush. Gallman was the featured back for the Tigers, as he was able to amass 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns. After Gallman, there is a major drop off in production from the rest of the running backs. The next running back to lead in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns was senior Zac Brooks with 234 yards and 3 touchdowns. That is quite a disparity in production from your first string 'back to the second string 'back. However, despite the drastic difference in rushing statistics amongst the running backs' group, the Clemson rushing attack still finished the season with the 21st rank in the nation with an average of 223 yards per game.
While this article is a look at how the RB group did, I want to add in quarterback Deshaun Watson as well. Yes, technically he is not a RB, but his rushing ability was vital for the success of the offense. If you take a look at the rushing statistics in total, and not just that of the RB's, Watson was the second best rusher on the team with 1,105 yards, 12 touchdowns, and an average of 5.34 yards per attempt. All of those statistics are second only to Gallman. In total with Watson, Clemson rushed for 3,194 and 31 touchdowns.
Strengths: Explosive plays
Busting open big plays (runs of 20+ yards) was a major strength in 2015. In total, there were 17 plays on the year that amounted for 20 or more yards. Gallman's 66 yard run for a touchdown against Georgia Tech was the longest run on the year from a running back. While some of these can be attributed to just general luck of a play being the right play at the right time, the fact that there was an average of at least one explosive play per game points more to the fact of good blocking from the offensive line at the point of attack, wide receivers engaging in blocks down the field, and just good vision and hard running from the 'backs themselves.
Despite the statistics of Gallman, there is a major lack of production/proven commodity behind him. The next leading rusher in terms of yards and attempts was Zac Brooks with 41 attempts and 234 yards compared to Gallman's 283/1,527. Yes, Gallman had more rushing ATTEMPTS than the next leading running back had rushing yards. If you look ahead to 2016, with the departure of Brooks, the next option is C.J. Fuller, who only had 171 rush yards himself. Now, to be fair, the Tigers do incorporate receivers in run plays. Not to mention, Watson getting quite a bit of carries himself. All of this will naturally take away attempts for other guys because there are so many opportunities to go around. However, if something horrible were to happen to Gallman and he were to miss significant playing time, lack of experience would become a factor.
Looking ahead to 2016, the Tigers aren't losing a whole lot. The 3 seniors that they will be losing (C.J. Davidson, Zac Brooks, and Brennan Goodnature) only account for 14% of the 2015 rushing yards and 15% of the touchdowns that Clemson got out of its RB's in 2015. Not an overall major blow for the 2016 team.
For those that will be on the roster come fall (barring any terrible news), Wayne Gallman will again lead the attack along with Tyshon Dye and C.J. Fuller. As of right now, Tavien Feaster is the only RB committed to Clemson in the 2016 class, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up on the depth chart, especially if any transfers occur for more playing time.
Assuming that all stays the same, running back depth is going to be something to keep an eye in 2016.
If you add in Watson to the rushing attack equation (which you should since his versatility opened up a lot for the running backs' as far as keeping the defense honest/distracted with what he was going to do), the overall production of this group was definitely one of the strengths of this team. With Gallman coming off of the big year that he had, expect him to be again the feature back and have another big campaign in 2016.
The only real concern going in to next season is the lack of depth at the position. Yes, Gallman did get the bulk of the carries, and with Watson carrying the ball a lot himself (let alone the pass plays and run plays designed for the wide receivers), there weren't much other opportunities for the other running backs to get an opportunity to prove themselves in 2015, and the case will probably be the same in 2016. However, if Gallman gets hurt and misses crucial playing time (God forbid), we won't know exactly what we'll be getting out of C.J. Fuller and Tyshon Dye.
All in all, the running back unit in 2015 was a strength and reliability in Clemson's run to the national title, and will be so again in 2016 for another championship run.