- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the running back position.
Highlights: Junior Ben Malena emerged as the go-to back this season, leading the running backs in rushing yards (752 yards on 130 carries) and adding 100 receiving yards 16 receptions. He was not only an asset with the ball in his hands but also without, doing well with blitz pickups in pass protection and even playing on special teams, covering kickoffs and punts. The 5-8, 195-pound junior proved to be a good fit for the Aggies' offensive scheme. Senior Christine Michael led the backs in rushing touchdowns with 12 and true freshman Trey Williams showed flashes of his ability when he got the ball, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and leading the running backs in receiving yards, (171 on 12 catches). Williams also handled kickoff return duties.
Lowlights: Michael's senior season didn't turn out as originally envisioned. He started two games (the opener and the regular season finale) and missed one because of a suspension (violation of team rules). He finished with 88 carries, second among the running backs but did lead the team in touchdowns. While all three backs saw action this season, there were some early-season struggles as the backs and the offensive line adjusted to thenew scheme. Eventually, the Aggies got it going.
Surprises: Malena's emergence as the starting back was a bit unexpected. The Cedar Hill (Texas) High School product clearly has ability but because Michael was returning it wasn't known how much of the load he would take. Malena proved to be a capable every-down back in this offense. Another surprise might be the fact that none of the running backs led the team in carries. Coming into the season, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who expected quarterback Johnny Manziel to be the team's leading rusher in carries (184), yards (1,181) and touchdowns (19).
Grade: B- Coach Kevin Sumlin said at the start of the year that all three running backs would play and that's exactly what happened. They started slow but as the season wore on, each contributed and were enough of a threat to make defenses respect the running game, helping open up the Aggies' high-powered offense.
4hSam Khan Jr. and Alex Scarborough
6dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon