JAMES WILLIAMS (Cougfan.com/Lindsay)

How high can Coug running backs fly in 2017?

THE COUGAR RUNNING BACKS led the conference in total yards from scrimmage last season. They also rushed for 23 touchdowns, the most by a Washington State backfield since 1997. Will those prove to be high-water marks, or will Wazzu's fearsome foursome reach even greater heights in 2017?

With James Williams reaching a new level this spring, and Keith Harrington one of spring ball's breakout performers, plus workhorses Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks back for their senior seasons, the guess here is the Cougar running backs are about to fly pretty high in '17.

But they have some work to do to top last year's production. 

First, the Cougs averaged 120 rushing yards per game last season, the highest in Mike Leach's career. Second, opposing defenses are now well aware WSU will run the ball at any time and adjustments are sure to follow.

In 2016, the Cougar running backs combined for 1,660 rushing yards on 284 carries.  Compare that to Leach's first season in Pullman, when the Cougars rushed the ball 252 times for but 349 yards.  In '16, WSU running backs also piled up 1,034 receiving yards and 31 total touchdowns.

Washington State was one of only four schools in the nation to have to have its running backs post both 1,000-plus rushing and receiving yards (also a first for Leach, and for WSU). 

Williams, Morrow and Wicks all had at least 80 carries, no small feat on a Leach team. Over Leach’s last 10 seasons, he had a pair of running backs top 80 carries in the same season only twice.

Individual Pac-12 running backs like Royce Freeman (Oregon); Myles Gaskin (UW); Ronald Jones (USC) and others are likely to get a lot of press.

But last season, WSU rushed the ball a not-so-insignificant 35.3 percent of the time. In the passing game, Luke Falk targeted Williams, Wicks or Morrow on 26.8 percent of pass attempts.  And Leach wants his running backs to be the most productive group on the team. Put it all together and those percentages could climb higher still in 2017.

NOTABLE NOTE:
The Cougars were one of only two Pac-12 programs (Oregon) that finished the year with 2,500-plus scrimmage yards and 25-plus touchdowns from scrimmage from its running backs.

Williams after the spring game:


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