Sunday, December 30, 2012
Alabama's RB duo surges to South Beach
By Edward Aschoff
T.J. Yeldon (4) and Eddie Lacy (42) are the first two players in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon don’t have a menacing/witty nickname for their dynamic partnership in Alabama’s backfield. According to Lacy, they’re just “T.J. and Eddie.”
With the way they continuously beat up defenders, that might be intimidating enough. When they carry the rock, someone is going to get smacked in the jaw, and most of the time it isn’t one of them.
“Every time we get the ball, whether it’s T.J. or myself, we want to hit them,” said Lacy, who finished the regular season second in the SEC with 1,182 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. “We want to initiate the contact.
“T.J. and I have the same mindset: To hit us is going to be physical, too. To have two people running like that, it only wears the defense down.”
It's plain to see that these two have helped numb the loss of Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, and plenty of defenses found that out the hard way.
Lacy, a junior, and Yeldon, a true freshman, became the first two players in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Yeldon currently has 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. They’re the first two backs in the SEC to each rush for 1,000 yards on the same team since Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones did it in 2007.
Both are averaging more than 6.4 yards per carry, and both average in the double digits when it comes to carries per game. Lacy might have the starter label, but it really is more like a 1A, 1B situation.
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Lacy is more of the pounder, grinding out extra yards with defenders on his back like it’s nothing, while Yeldon packs both a punch and boosters. As center Barrett Jones puts it, Yeldon is a “freak specimen” who can run over defenders or cut right past them on a dime.
It makes blocking for each that much easier, Jones said. More often than not, Jones said, linemen don’t even know which back is in the huddle, and most of the time they aren’t concerned with knowing.
“The reason we don’t worry is because we have so much confidence in both guys,” Jones said. “We might be worried if there were a severe drop-off from one to two.”
Early on, Jones wasn’t sure whether that lack of a drop-off would exist. He was impressed with Yeldon during the spring, but wasn’t sure it would carry over to the fall. And Lacy, who has always dealt with nagging injuries, missed all of spring after undergoing surgery.
There was concern, but as players started to realize just how talented Yeldon was as he trudged through fall camp like a grown man, the fears surrounding the running game diminished.
“During camp practices, he never slowed down,” Lacy said of Yeldon.
With Lacy still not 100 percent to start the season, Yeldon raised eyebrows again, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Michigan. Since then, the two have become a wrecking crew in Alabama’s backfield.
And they’ve done so without egos getting in the way. It would be easy for either to pout about sharing carries, but Lacy said sharing the rushing duty has made them better players by creating friendly competition and keeping them fresh.
In a league dominated by physical abuse, recovery is key, and that makes sharing carries that much more important for Alabama’s duo.
“Whoever you play, they’re coming to play, and they’re going to hit you,” Lacy said. “Limiting the carries limits those hits and allows your body to recover.”
That became very obvious in the SEC championship game against Georgia. Those four fresh legs churned out 334 of Alabama’s title-game record 350 rushing yards. The two embarrassed Georgia’s front and left the Bulldogs gassed.
And that’s what the two hope they do against No. 1 Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. While the Irish own the nation’s No. 4 rushing defense, there’s no doubt this will be a very tall task for that unit.
Thanks to a punishing persona, Alabama is averaging an SEC-best 6.2 yards per carry on designed runs and 4.2 yards before contact. Tide rushers have made it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 35.1 percent of their designed runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
On designed, downhill runs up the gut, Alabama averages 6.6 yards per carry with about one in every five attempts going for at least 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Those are gaudy numbers for the Tide, and Jones can’t help but snicker at the thought of opponents having to face that tandem for 60 minutes.
“It’s an embarrassment of riches in our running backs room,” he said.