Coming into last season, the running game was supposed to struggle. Big time. Jon Cornish, the leading rusher in both 2005 and 2006, had graduated, leaving a wide, gaping hole in the Jayhawks' backfield. Of course, that doubt in the running game was proven to be unfounded, as Jake Sharp and Brandon McAnderson combined to post some of the best offensive rushing numbers in Kansas history.
With McAnderson's graduation entering this season, people across the country again began to doubt the rush offense. However, the Kansas fanbase (me included) was far less woried coming into the 2008 season than the 2007 season. While Sharp and McAnderson were both largely unknown quantities heading into 2007, coming into this season we had Sharp, who was coming off an 800 yard season, and the 2007 JUCO Offensive Player of the Year in Jocques Crawford.
So, yea, complete confidence certainly wasn't the case entering the season, but it wasn't like we were panicking in trying to find a RB. And even during fall practice sessions, there were no poor reports concerning the running back depth chart. Well, I guess the two transfers could be counted, but not a single bad word was said of either Jake Sharp or Jocques Crawford. Everyone got all excited. We all expected our running game to shock the doubters and prophetize the believers. We all expected Jake Sharp to continue to be an excellent change-of-pace back, busting off big runs here-and-there. We all expected for Jocques Crawford to be all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips, earning the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Award and breaking some records along the way. Hell, maybe even to rush for 2,000 yards.
All of those expectations has provided a false sense of security thus far this season, as two consecutive terrible games by both Sharp and Crawford have made our running game incredibly nebulous. We have faced two fairly poor rushing defenses in FIU and Louisiana Tech, and yet we have struggled to get any push on the O-Line and to get any long rushing plays. Nearly every single play has seemed to go for 2 yards thus far this season. That is, nearly every single rush that wasn't run by #22.
#22, of course, would be Angus Quigley. He was the best running back on the field the first game of the year against FIU, but he only toted the ball 6 times, while both Crawford and Sharp saw double-digit carries. It was good enough to create some healthy discussion about Quigley potentially seeing some future carries along with the starting duo of Crawford and Sharp, but not enough to make it a serious issue. After all, you had to figure that the running game would improve substantially when Jeremiah Hatch was inserted into the starting lineup, when the line would have time to gel and when the running backs would get back in the swing of things. Then, the starting duo was even worse the second go-around against Louisiana Tech, even with Hatch in the starting lineup, forcing Mangino to allow Quigley a chance to earn some future carries.
And earn some carries Quigley did. He carried the ball 15 times; Crawford and Sharp carried it a combined 14. Quigley picked up 84 yards on those 15 carries; Crawford and Sharp picked up only 39 yards. Now, of course, you have the reasons why Quigley could have performed so much better. The defense was likely wore down, making it easier for Quigley to earn yards. The defense wasn't as motivated, with the end result already decided. He was able to get into more of a rhythm than either Crawford or Sharp, as we wanted to run the ball more to run out the clock.
Even giving credence to all of those ideas, it still makes sense to give Quigley some quality carries while the game is still close. Friday night would be a perfect time to begin to work him in to the rotation; see how I didn't say to slot him in as the starter and forget about the rest. As disappointing as Sharp and Crawford have been thus far to start out the year, they are still both incredibly talented and still deserve some chances to try and perform better. However, I think it is a must that Quigley sees at least a handful of carries in the 1st quarter Friday night, if only to see how he does early in the game where the potential excuses are fewer-and-farther-between. I'm not saying Quigley is the answer (but he might be), I'm just saying he deserves the opportunity to prove that he can at least be a portion of the pie; a piece of the puzzle.
He's earned it, Coach. Get him some big-time PT, because we need to be able to run the ball somehow, someway, and the only player on our team that has yet to prove that they can do that, no matter the opposition, is Angus Quigley.