Season in Review: UVa's RB situation remains unsettled
After we kicked off our position-by-position breakdown with a look at UVa’s quarterbacks, in this installment of Season in Review we’re going to move to the running backs, as we compare the current situation to the way things were prior to the season and then project out how things look.
This was supposed to be the year.
That was the story going into the 2020 football season, as UVa projected to have an experienced and deep group on the O-line and the Cavaliers no longer could lean on Bryce Perkins, who ran for 1,046 yards and 11 TDs on 227 carries in 2019.
Despite some limitations in terms of depth, the roster also looked prime for a nice step forward among running backs, with Wayne Taulapapa returning joined by rising sophomore Mike Hollins, Towson transfer Shane Simpson, and the then-pending addition of Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall seemed excited about the prospect of making the running game a focal point in 2020, especially after the step back—at least in terms of the running backs themselves—that it took the previous year. Perkins was an electric, program-changing talent but with his departure and the depth returning, especially up front, 2020 seemed to have all of the pieces including a first-year starter in Brennan Armstrong who projected to be a different kind of quarterback than Perkins.
As we mentioned in our piece on the QBs, Armstrong ended up being UVa’s top rusher this season with 552 yards on 126 carries in nine games to go with five touchdowns. Keytaon Thompson ran for 236 yards on 39 carries with three TDs while Ira Armstead added 68 yards on 10 carries to go along with his lone touchdown.
Among actual running backs, Taulapapa led the way with 395 yards on 88 carries to go with five scores while Simpson added 278 yards on 54 rushes with a pair of TDs. Walker, who played in just four games due to NCAA bureaucracy and health, had 28 yards on 23 carries this season.
As mentioned above, the issue UVa faced this season was building on 2019 when Taulapapa ran for 486 yards and a team-high 12 TDs on 116 carries. PK Kier also ran for 178 yards and a score last fall while Hollins added 114 yards and three TDs on the ground.
Both of these years, at least when it comes to RBs, were a far cry from the 2018 season when former Wahoo running back Jordan Ellis ran for 1,037 yards on 215 carries with 10 scores. He did that after an 886-yard, six-touchdown season in 2017 when he had 215 carries. Lastly, Taquan Mizzell ran for 994 yards on 187 carries in 2016, Mendenhall’s first as head coach, to go with five TDs.
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