It's Miller time

Freshman running back Darrian Miller has shown flashes of his prolific ability through the first six games of the season. Now, as the Kansas State Wildcats and their Top 20 defense come to town, it's time for the Kansas offense to let loose the reigns of what is probably the most talented thoroughbred in its stable.

It needs to be said at the outset that this column isn't meant as a knock on James Sims.

Sims is solid. Dependable. Through six games, he's Kansas' leading rusher with 455 yards on 102 carries - a very respectable 4.5 yards per carry average - and a team-leading six rushing touchdowns.

With stats like those, why shouldn't he be the one carrying the bulk of the load the rest of the way?

Because Darrian Miller is special.

Perhaps not the most scientific of reasons, sure, but let's go ahead and take a look at a few stats.

Last week versus Oklahoma, Sims led the team with 75 yards rushing on just 11 carries. Miller, who was actually given four more carries than his sophomore teammate, rushed for 66 yards. Both scored a touchdown.

Delve a little deeper though, and the stats paint a different picture. 56 of Sims' carries came on a single play - a 56-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that was the result of something of a botched fourth-down play. A simple speed option on 4th and 1 got hairy when the snap to quarterback Jordan Webb came in low.

With nowhere to run, and the Sooners defense crashing down on Webb, the sophomore quarterback improvised and tossed it with his right hand to Sims - who had 56 yards of open field in front of him.

Now, big plays happen all the time. They're one of the hallmarks of good running backs, so to discredit them completely is foolish. But if one removes that run from Sims' stat line, he averaged 1.9 yards per carry instead of an impressive 6.8.

By contrast, Miller's longest run of the day was 19 yards. Take away that run, and his average dips from 4.4 yards per carry to 3.6.

Rewind to the Georgia Tech game. Both backs carried 11 times - Miller for 53 yards and Sims for 40. Going deeper into the stats, the removal of Sims' longest run (19 yards) leaves him with a 2.1 ypc average. Doing the same for Miller (an 11-yard run) produces an average of 3.8 yards per carry. The freshman from Blue Springs, Mo. also rushed for both of Kansas' touchdowns on the ground in that game.

The stats support what the eyes can see on the field. With his uncanny sense of balance, Miller has an ability to bounce off would-be tacklers, absorbing the blow and keeping his legs driving for extra yardage, that isn't a part of Sims' repertoire.

It's the difference between a four-yard gain and a two-yard gain. Between 2nd-and-Long or 2nd-and-6. And with the opponents remaining on Kansas' schedule, those extra yards could be crucial. Three of them - Kansas State, Texas and Missouri - have defenses that rank in the top 30 nationally.

That Miller and Sims will get the bulk of the carries going forward is clear. Tony Pierson comes close to melting turf when he touches the football, but his slender frame makes it difficult for him between the tackles, and thus limits what the coaching staff is able to do with him.

Brandon Bourbon is a bruising, powerful runner with exceptional straight line speed, but a series of nagging injuries have sidelined him just enough to keep the staff from being able to justify dumping a boatload of carries in his lap.

But while Sims is solid and dependable, Miller is different. He's a potential star, a back capable of carrying the ball 25-30 times a game - though offensive coordinator Chuck Long doesn't need him to do so.

When Kansas State brings its Top 20 defense to town Saturday, Sims will get his carries, as he should.

But it's time to see what Darrian Miller can do in the spotlight. He's earned that chance – and the Jayhawks just might be better off for it.


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