“We haven’t heard much as far as who their running backs are for years now, outside of Adrian Peterson,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said on Tuesday. “But now they’ve got that one guy who can run really hard, ran for over 100 yards. And the little guy, he was really quick, too. That’s no disrespect. They put up some running yards last week, and that’s what I mean.”
The “guy who can run really hard” is Matt Asiata. Asiata (6-0, 234) went undrafted out of Utah in 2011, failed to make the Vikings’ roster and spent the year working at an industrial supply warehouse until re-signing in January 2012. He entered this season with career marks of 47 carries for 175 yards and three touchdowns and six catches for 15 yards.
With Peterson out due to off-field problems and Toby Gerhart having joined Jacksonville in free agency, Asiata has become the primary ball-carrier. He’s carried 47 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns and added 12 receptions for 111 yards and another touchdown in four games (three starts). He rushed 20 times for 78 yards and three scores in the Vikings’ 41-28 victory over Atlanta on Sunday.
The “really quick” guy is rookie Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon (5-9, 208) was Minnesota’s third-round pick after starring at quarterback, among other positions, for Georgia Southern. In the final carry of his college career, he ran 14 yards for a touchdown in a shocking upset at Florida and finished his career with 3,889 rushing yards. McKinnon put on a dazzling display at the Scouting Combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds with a 40.5-inch vertical leap and 32 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Getting his first meaningful playing time against the Falcons, he rushed 18 times for 135 yards, including a 55-yarder.
“They have a lot of young guys who are making plays over there,” Packers linebacker Julius Peppers said. “They definitely pop out on the tape. We notice them. I’ve been pretty impressed with 31 (McKinnon). I’m sorry I don’t even know (his name), but I definitely notice him on the field. He’s made plays. They have some guys that can make plays, so we’re on alert.”
The Packers, of course, can’t afford to take any running game lightly. They’re allowing 176.0 rushing yards per game. That’s the worst in the league by a considerable margin, with Oakland next-to-last with 158.3 rushing yards per game.
“You (would) think that there would be a drop-off, but there really isn’t,” Matthews said. “We’re going to have our hands full, especially with what we put on film this past weekend. They’ve got to be coming in here thinking that they’re going to run it on us. It’s just a great opportunity for us to showcase that that’s not the case.”