Time for a Tandem at Tailback

Story posted October 14, 2011 in CommRadio, Sports by Jared Abbott

Penn State is the most traditional team in college football. The Joe Paterno era began sixty-two years ago and the Nittany Lions have played Joe Paterno football ever since he took over as the head coach.

Paterno took over the helm in 1965. He was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He is a living legend of the game that has already been immortalized outside the stadium in which he still coaches on Saturdays.

However, the eternalized statue standing outside Beaver Stadium depicts Paterno leading his players on the field with his pointer finger held high symbolizing Penn State being “number 1.”

Today, you’ll most likely find Paterno sitting in the coaches’ box watching the game behind a glaring window. His weakened figure is reflected by the lackluster offense play on the field. There is still no starting quarterback and the offensive line has been suspect as well, especially against the pass rush.

The lack of a strong passing game has put the weight of the offense on the shoulders of 5-foot-10, 209 pound sophomore from Norwalk, Connecticut. The elusive Silas Redd does not shy away from contact, but the wear and tear of the workload could take some tread off of his tires.

Enter Curtis Dukes. Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 237 pound this bruising tailback provides a powerful running game between the tackles. When Dukes enters the game to give Redd a breather, he uses his unique combination of size and speed to break through the hole and enter the second level of the defense with ease.

Dukes has rushed for 190 yards on 27 carries so far this season. With an average of 7.0 yards per carry, why doesn’t Dukes see more touches?

Paterno credits Dukes frequent return to the sideline to his poor pass blocking. With someone of Dukes’ size, how can pass blocking be an issue?

Paterno has acknowledged the fact that Dukes is a tremendous athlete with a big upside, but he needs to polish his skills in order to see the field more. There is no denying Dukes’ athletic abilities rushing the ball and in order to keep Redd fresh the entire season Dukes will have to see more carries.

Some of the most successful college football teams have benefited from a running back tandem. In 2006 the Arkansas Razorbacks used a three-headed attack with Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis. All three of these backs are succeeding in the NFL as well. Reggie Bush and LenDale White dominated college football from 2003-2005 at “The Rose Bowl” in Pasadena for USC.

Still playing Paterno’s traditional style of play is hurting the Nittany Lions’ offense. A new modern infusion of a tandem at tailback would add a new fold to a predictable playbook.

The Nittany Lions have never had two players run for 1,000 yards in the same season. The reason is because of Penn State’s persistence to ride the legs of a single workhorse. Evan Royster was the most recent, but the list goes back to Larry Johnson and Ki-Jana Carter before him.

Curt Warner, D.J Dozier, and Blair Thomas led Paterno’s attack in the 1980’s en route to two national championships. However, the days of the workhorse leading Penn State to national success are over.

Running back tandems are the new fad in college football. Bush and White won a national championship at USC for the Trojans. More recently Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson bruised and bashed through the tough SEC and into the national spotlight.

In these tandems usually there’s a skill back with the elusive abilities to get outside and speed down the sideline and the power back with the bruising, power style between the tackles. Penn State is set up perfectly for this attack.

However, Redd is clearly seen as the feature back. He already has 119 carries this season, compared to Dukes’ 27. If this trend continues, Redd will wear down later in the season due to the grueling, smash-mouth style of football played in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s schedule is bottom-heavy with three ranked opponents and Ohio State comprising last four games of the season. Paterno will need a healthy and fresh Redd in order to compete for supremacy in the Big Ten down the stretch.

The key to late-season success is the bruising and explosive play of Curtis Dukes. Penn State should shift to a tandem in the backfield and bail out the struggling passing game with the speed and power combination of Redd and Dukes.

Jared Abbott is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and psychology. To contact him, email: jda5104@psu.edu.