Don’t believe it for one second.
Northern Illinois tailbacks Justin Anderson and Ricky Crider will not be a major part of the Huskies’ game plan in the International Bowl. In this week’s press conference NIU head coach Jerry Kill hinted both backs might have a role in the team’s bowl game.
"To be honest with you Me’co [Brown] won't be healthy I don't think. I think that Chad [Spann] is a kid that’s fought through some things and it's important for him,” said Kill of his starting two tail backs. “With Justin Anderson and Ricky Crider, we've got some depth there.”
Although Kill has depth at the running back position, and has dealt with injuries at this spot during the regular season, he refuses to break away from Spann or Brown.
Anderson has 21 carries, most coming in garbage time against teams like Eastern Michigan and Western Illinois, this year. Remember, this is the running back that in his sophomore season carried the ball 274 times for 1,245 yards and eight touchdowns.
Crider has fared even worse. The junior has only 10 carries this season, with eight of those coming in garbage time against Eastern Michigan. Last year Crider carried the ball 43 times for 208 yards. In 2009 he has only 37 yards.
But the limited role of these players during the regular season does not prove Kill will not use them in the Huskies’ 13th game of the season. What does, however, is how Kill spoke before NIU’s contest against Ohio, as it matches exactly what he said this week.
In that November press conference Kill admitted Brown was suffering from an ankle injury, which had bothered him for the past few weeks.
“Me’co has got an ankle situation,” said Kill in his Tuesday press conference before the Ohio game. “He practiced on Sunday but limped noticeably. So that’s a concern.”
The coach also admitted the team’s MVP, tailback Chad Spann, was suffering from a shoulder injury.
“Chad will not practice today and he’s a question mark for Saturday,” said Kill in the same press conference. “I do think he has an opportunity to play. We’ll just have to see.”
With these injuries the coach pointed to Anderson and Crider as possible replacements.
“But we still have Ricky Crider, Justin Anderson, who have minutes, so we’re not going to sit around and be worried about what we cannot control,” said Kill in that November press conference. “We’ll start the next one and play.”
Despite these comments, Anderson and Crider did not touch the ball once again Ohio. Instead Spann carried the ball 12 times and Brown ran with the ball for 11 times. Spann picked up 32 yards. Brown didn’t do much worse, rushing for only 16 yards.
Kill had two healthy backs on the bench, but decided to use two injured players against one of the largest defensive lines in the MAC. The result: 23 carries for 48 yards—an average of 2.1 yards per carry.
Thus, while Kill may say he’s willing to go down the depth chart at the running back position, don’t be fooled. The coach will use either Spann or Brown. In all honesty, NIU’s mobile quarterback DeMarcus Grady will see more rushing attempts than Crider or Anderson.
The implications of not using two running backs in Kill’s system
The Huskies have relied on a two back attack throughout most of the 2009 season.
In only five games this season NIU has let one tailback accumulate 60 percent or more of the rushing attempts by a tailback.
In those games the Huskies were 2-3. These losses were against Central Michigan, Idaho and Toledo. Those teams have a combined record of 23-14.
The two teams NIU beat in this manner, Akron and Miami (Ohio), have a combined record of 4-20.
On the other side, NIU is 5-2 when it has kept a tailback for accounting for 60 percent or more of the rushes by running back.
NIU’s losses when spreading the load came against Ohio and Wisconsin. These teams have a combined record of 18-7.
The Huskies victories, when using multiple backs, were against Purdue, Western Michigan, Ball State, Western Illinois and Eastern Michigan. These teams have a combined record of 13-46.
While the records seem to negate how NIU won, it is still important to recognize that the Huskies have won a majority of their games by spreading the running back carries.
NIU tailback Me’co Brown, however, can no longer fit into this game plan.
The sophomore dropped off at the end of the year due to an ankle injury. In the Huskies’ final six games Brown accumulated 86 yards on 48 carries; an average of 1.8 yards per carry. The sophomore didn’t even play in NIU’s last game of the season against Central Michigan.
Furthermore, Kill said in his press conference this week that Brown “will not be healthy,” for the game. The coach, therefore, has put his faith in the return of Spann for the Huskies’ bowl game.
"I think it's real important for Chad [Spann] to continue where he's left off,” Kill said. “We definitely need [Spann] at full tilt."
But even if Spann 100 percent healthy, Kill will most likely need to use Anderson or Crider to be successful, at least according to his style of play.
Thus, the question facing Kill is, will he finally use the depth at the running back position that he has talked so much about this season, or will he continue to refuse to put Anderson and Crider on the field?