Ka'Deem Carey and Taimi Tutogi provide RB depth for Rich Rodriguez's zone-read option. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Denard Robinson accrued mind-boggling numbers in Rich Rodriguez's zone-read option at Michigan, to a point that the Wolverine quarterback was a Heisman favorite for the first month of the 2010 season. But having to call one player's number so often is the opposite of ideal. There are no shortage of challenges facing Rodriguez and his staff in their first year at Arizona, but rushing options for the option are not among them.
Before Robinson, West Virginia's Pat White registered some eye-popping statistics in the running game -- 1335 to be exact. White also scored 14 times on the ground. Scott is unlikely to replicate White's figures, or come anywhere near them really. But if the Wildcats' depth at running back produces, Scott will not need to.
Certainly, a dually capable quarterback is a big thing for a successful zone-read, but it isn't the only thing.
Rodriguez's most efficient offense at WVU was also his best team overall. The 2007 Mountaineers came a scoring drive away from the BCS championship game, employing a multifaceted rushing game working as their engine. WVU churned out over 300 yards per game on the ground, less than only Navy and Air Force among Bowl Subdivision teams; and those were two offenses predicated almost exclusively on the rush.
Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee is working with a diverse, and skilled backfield. The gamut UA's RB corps covers should make the job Magee and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith have ahead of them easier.
UA's ground game starts with Ka'Deem Carey. A star of the 2011 signing class and homegrown product, Carey was integrated more into the offense by November, well after UA cemented bottom-of-the-Pac rushing status. He was productive in wins over UCLA and Arizona State, particularly taking it to the rival Sun Devils with 92 yards on 13 attempts. He provided stability with quarterback Nick Foles sidelined in the second half.
Carey fills the feature back role Steve Slaton so proficiently manned for Rodriguez's last WVU team. It just so happens Carey and Slaton are similar players. Carey stands 5-foot-10, 200 pounds. Slaton is 5-foot-9, 200 pounds. Carey ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. Slaton's clocks at 4.45 seconds.
Slaton carried the ball 211 in '07, nearly 100 more than UA's most active rusher last season (Keola Antolin), and a little more than 100 times fewer than the entire '11 Wildcat roster. In that same regard, a little north of 200 carries is hardly an overwhelming burden for Carey when compared to other feature backs in the Pac-12. Former Washington Husky Chris Polk carried almost 300 times last season; Utah's John White exceeded 300.
The 200-carry mark is enough to integrate Carey as a primary weapon in the offense without bogging him down. WVU rushed 628 times in '07, which translates into Rodriguez, Smith and Magee having responsibility to spread around.
Noel Devine was a true freshman and groomed as Slaton's heir apparent during Rodriguez's final stint in Morgantown. Devine factored prominently into the offense with 73 carries and six touchdowns, and added extra pop at a team best 8.6 yards per carry. Likewise, Daniel Jenkins averaged the most yards per carry among Wildcats with regular opportunities.
About 20 pounds heavier than Devine, Jenkins is less the prototypical third down style back that his Mountaineer counterpart was. That should work in the Wildcats' favor. With Scott unlikely to garner the nearly 200 carries White accrued, that leaves more responsibility on the backfield. Jenkins could see somewhere in the 120-150 carry range as the complement to Carey.
Perhaps the most intriguing parallel between the 2007 WVU backfield and the 2012 UA version is in the power game. Mountaineer fullback Owen Schmitt went from walk-on to key cog in short yardage and goal line situations, and later the NFL.
Schmitt tacked on 272 yards in '07, and his four rushing touchdowns were fourth most on the team. In an offense celebrated for its finesse, Schmitt was a necessary juxtaposition. His terrifically smash mouth style translated both in freeing up teammates as a blocker, and as an ace-in-the-hole when called to rush. Rodriguez has a couple of similar options in Taimi Tutogi and Greg Nwoko.
Tutogi gave the pass-happy Wildcats of 2011 a different look with his versatility from the H-back position. At 260 pounds, Tutogi is physically more comparable to Schmitt. Nwoko weighs in at 240 pounds. He factored into the offense in 2010 as a tailback, particularly while Nicolas Grigsby nursed injuries. Nwoko will most likely convert to fullback in his return season from an ACL tear.