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Questions in NIU's Running Game: Justin Anderson Is the Answer

Jerry Burnes@@JerryBurnesAnalyst IJuly 18, 2009

If Northern Illinois head football coach Jerry Kill wants consistency at running back, look no further than the veteran of the group, Justin Anderson.

As a sophomore, Anderson exploded onto the scene for the Huskies in place of the injured Montell Clanton. In 10 starts, he rushed for 1,245 yards, eight touchdowns, and averaged 103.8 yards per game.

Those numbers were in the Joe Novak era. Anderson was the ninth-straight back under Novak to rush for 1,000 yards.

No offense to coach Kill, but if Novak felt Anderson was the next 1,000 yard rusher with two more seasons to shine, then he was probably right.

In 2008, Anderson picked up just 209 yards in just two starts. Freshman quarterback Chandler Harnish led the team in rushing with 539 yards.

Last year was last year, now it's time to make things right. The Huskies have a tradition of running backs, and Anderson is next in line. Me'co Brown had a productive freshman year, and Chad Spann filled in nicely but Kill's running backs have a Tennessee Titans-like combo to it.

Let Anderson pick up the bulk in his senior season and use the small, fast, and shifty Brown as the change-of-pace back. With this tandem, the Huskies can have a consistent running game. They don't have to rely on a pair of sophomores, one being the quarterback  and the other being Brown.

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Great running backs have been a part of NIU football, dating back to LeShon Johnson, Thomas Hammock, A.J. Harris, Michael Turner, and Anderson's predecessor, Garrett Wolfe.

It would be a shame if the Huskies' new offensive system does not promote the qualities that brought NIU success.

While I think Brown can be the No. 1 guy someday, now is not his time. Anderson, who has a true running back skill set, is the main back. His yards per carry average (4.4) doesn't tell the story. The more carries Anderson sees, the more success he finds.

Unlike Brown, he's not a one-touch home run threat. Instead, he pounds the ball up the middle and, without warning, breaks off the big run. As Wolfe did at NIU, Anderson almost always picks up positive yards.

While I understand a change of regime brings a change of systems, why argue with a system that produced four outright or Co-MAC West championships, two bowl games, and three legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates at running back?

Maybe it's just me, but why fix what isn't broken?

[Photo by Jerry Burnes]

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