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NC State has proven potential at running back and now it’s looking for a breakout

The Wolfpack backfield returns virtually intact.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Well, folks, it looks like (*glances around nervously*) ... it looks like we made it to football season. Good for us.

Let’s get the blanket caveat out of the way here at the start of my 2020 position previews: coronavirus lurks as a potential setback for anybody on the team at any time and all we can do is hope for the best. It’s understood that this virus can change everything in an instant.

Moving on, and beginning with the running backs...

Production Lost

Player Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Player Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Will Dabbs 11 45 4.09 0
TOT 11 45 4.09 0

(Will Dabbs as well as his brother, also a football walk-on, decided to pass on their final year of eligibility to focus on the pursuit of careers in medicine. Slackers.)

All things considered, NC State’s running back unit was a bright spot on the 2019 team. Despite the fact that the Wolfpack passing game offered nothing to keep defenses honest most of the time and the inexperience at running back, the rushing attack made some incremental improvements from 2018.

State went from averaging 143 rushing yards per game on 3.9 per carry in 2018 to 151 yards per game on 4.3 per carry. Considering the Wolfpack had the football equivalent of a belligerent rotary sprinkler spraying the football around on pass plays, the production by the backs is rather impressive.

Zonovan Knight entered the year with a good bit of hype and he proved that warranted—NC State’s offense was never good enough to provide Knight the chance to put up big numbers, but he was consistent and effective. Jordan Houston was a breath of fresh air as a speed rusher, and the two combined for over 1,200 yards rushing.

Production Returning

Player Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Player Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Zonovan Knight 136 745 5.48 5
Jordan Houston 101 526 5.21 2
Ricky Person 61 229 3.75 3
Trent Pennix 13 55 4.23 0
TOT 311 1555 5.00 10

NC State’s returning backs accounted for nearly 86% of the Pack’s rushing yardage in 2019. Knight and Houston both could take a step forward in 2020 assuming the line play holds up. I would also expect the offense to better utilize these guys with an experienced playcaller in Tim Beck now in the fold.

Ricky Person was again hampered by injuries but doesn’t lack for potential if he can put those setbacks behind him, while Trent Pennix has shown some versatility in limited opportunities across two seasons.

The group is still young but the difference this year is it does not lack for proven experience. Knight was on the field for over 300 snaps in 2019, while Houston was out there for more than 200.

Ideally, building on 2019 means getting more explosive plays out of these guys in 2020, as the Pack ranked just 80th in rushing plays over 20 yards last year. That feels doable to me.