Jackson and James. Bo and Brent. Caddy and Ronnie.
Auburn has certainly produced its share of great ball carrying tandems over the last 30 plus years. Despite those and other talented one-two punches (and sometimes one-two-three punches), no two running backs have eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in the same season since James Brooks (1,208) and Joe Cribbs (1,120) accomplished that feat in 1979. It’s an exclusive club, but one Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb have a very real chance to join this season.
Most years, Auburn has had a clear featured back. During their respective time on The Plains, James Bostic, Rudi Johnson or Stephen Davis got the majority of the carries and yards (with the exception of the later Bowden years where there was no featured back, and very few carries and very few yards). But even when two premier talents have shared the load they’ve ended up just short of the 1,000 yard mark. Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, who each had a 1,000 yard season while at Auburn, came closest to doing it together in 2004 when Williams rushed for 1,165 and Brown churned out 913.
That’s not to say that Auburn hasn’t produced two 1,000 yard rushers in a season since the pre-Dye era—that happened just last year: Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton led the team with 1,473 yards, Dyer broke Auburn’s freshman rushing record with 1,093 yards. But since Newton wasn’t a running back, he’s excluded from this particular discussion and the challenge remains: Can Auburn’s two leading running backs match the tag-team production of Brooks and Cribbs?
Dyer is expected to handle the bulk of the load in 2011 from the start after being eased into the rotation last year. Barring injury, he should be able to equal or top his 2010 totals simply with an increase in playing time. The speedy McCalebb is the ideal change of pace to the bruising Dyer and should see his role increase as well in his junior season.
While Dyer and Newton were busy racking up yards, often in 5 or 6 yard chunks, McCalebb made the most of his 95 carries, rushing for 810 yards of his own—an astounding 8.5 per carry. It may be too much to expect another season of over eight yards a pop, but removing Newton from the equation and sending some of those carries his way should put McCalebb in good position to top 1,000.
There are obviously many factors at play that will greatly affect the duo’s ability to rack up yardage. In their favor? The lack of any proven third options at the position. If transfer Mike Blakely isn’t granted a release to play this year and Tre Mason isn’t cleared (both still in doubt according to recent reports… UPDATE: Mason has been cleared), additional carries will be spread out amongst a host of different players while Dyer and McCalebb shoulder the heavy load.
The matter of an inexperienced quarterback behind center? Could be a positive, could be a negative. It could lead to an even greater reliance on the running game and a lot more carries… or it could allow defenses to focus all of their attention on stopping the run. Of course there’s the whole replacing 80 percent of the offensive line thing. But when you combine their talents with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s explosive offense the opportunity should be there to make some history.
Brooks and Cribbs. Dyer and McCalebb?
Riley Downing graduated from Auburn in 1999 and moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where he has been stuck ever since. He makes the most of his long daily commute and forfeits sleep in an attempt to keep up with everything Auburn and cling to his brief moment on The Plains. Follow him on Twitter—@FearlessandTrue.
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* Graffiti on the barricade around the Toomer’s oaks
* The Secret History of an Underground Iron Bowl
* 78 never before seen photos of the Kopper Kettle explosion
* The Ron Swanson Pyramid of Auburn
* The Auburn plaque in 1984′s Tank
* War Drobe Eagle: The Auburn shirt in Cannonball Run