Mix and match
In a game against in-state rival University of Mary last September, Minot State University freshman running back Randel Barber took the delayed handoff on a draw play, burst through a hole at the line of scrimmage and sprinted past the Marauder defense untouched for a 35-yard score.
“(The draw is) a speed play,” Barber said. “The defense doesn’t know what’s coming. You can blow right past them if they blitz. For me, it’s one of my favorite plays.”
Giving the explosive Barber space to run is one of the primary objectives for an offense that averaged just 91.3 rushing yards per game in 2012 – the second-lowest total among 16 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference teams.
After serving as graduate Blake Eggl’s backup last season, Barber is the early favorite to earn the starting role in the Beavers’ one-back backfield. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder racked up 435 rushing yards as a true freshman with an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
A couple of other young backs – sophomore Tyler Molyneaux and redshirt freshman Jarvis Mustipher – haven’t recorded a college carry but are expected to push Barber for playing time. MSU running backs coach Andy Heitkamp said the Beavers will likely use all three.
“They’re all a little bit different,” Heitkamp said. “Tyler is kind of our physical, run-you-over back. He can make guys miss a little bit to do stuff, but his style is to be a more physical running back.
“Randel is more kind of the slasher, fast guy. … Jarvis is the in-between guy. He’s kind of our spark plug. He has the ability to run into people, he has the ability to make guys miss.”
Heitkamp said the 6-2, 200-pound Molyneaux was limited by a knee injury last season, but came back strong in the spring. Mustipher – built like a bowling ball at 5-7, 190 pounds – has impressed with his versatility in fall camp.
“I think it’s gonna be good,” Barber said of the backs’ various skill sets. “(Opponents are) not gonna know what’s coming. They’ve never seen Jarvis play. (Molyneaux) didn’t get that many reps. It’s just three different varieties of running back. … It’s gonna help the offense open up a little bit more.”
Mustipher said the Beavers are working on eliminating negative plays, something they struggled with last season. MSU took an average of 33.5 negative rushing yards per contest in 2012. Excluding sacks, the figure drops to 14.6 yards per game.
“We don’t have to break every run, but make sure we at least get back to the line of scrimmage,” Mustipher said. “We can’t take as many tackles in the backfield.”
Heitkamp said his young group is also competing in the mental approach to the position.
“They spend a lot of time together, quizzing each other with who can actually draw the (offensive) front and the blocking scheme or call the protection and do it,” he said. “That’s really important. The more you know about it, the easier the game gets. If they know what the front is, where the defensive people are moving, the gaps they’re responsible for – it makes it easier for them to know where to run.”
The running backs have set a goal to improve upon last year’s subpar rushing totals. But they understand they’ll need help from an offensive line that is breaking in three new starters.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve been the most impressed with is those guys aren’t trying to do things they’re not capable of doing,” Heitkamp said. “They realize they need the people up front to do things with. And the people up front realize they need the people behind them to achieve things successfully. Obviously, when you can run the ball, the game gets a whole heck of a lot easier.”
Daniel Allar reports on Minot State University athletics and assists with high school coverage. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.
Editor’s note: This is the final part of an eight-part series breaking down each unit of the Minot State University football team. The other seven stories can be found at minotdailynews.com.