Saturday, August 21, 2010

Running Backs

In the previous post regarding the prospects for the quarterbacks in 2010, I stated that all college football teams experience growing pains from year to year. While this is true, the running back portion of the team had no attrition and figures to be a very strong part of this year's team. The Crusaders, which have not been a running team since the days of Steve Silva and Gideon Akande, will have perhaps the best one-two punch for running backs in the Patriot League. (Colgate may have the best running game with Nate Eachus and Greg Sullivan, but Sullivan is their quarterback. For the sake of this argument, I am merely highlighting the running backs.) With Dominic Randolph running the show and slinging the ball across all parts of the field for the past four seasons, Crusader running backs were often overshadowed; this certainly was not for their lack of talent, however. Matt Bellomo and Eddie Houghton (pictured below) have the potential to be not just an integral part of the offense this season, but the focal point of it.

The offense was centered around Dominic Randolph last year, and why wouldn't it have? When Bellomo and Houghton did have their number called, they performed exceptionally -- especially the young Houghton. And although Bellomo was just a sophomore in 2009, he played like an upperclassman as he was forced into a significant amount of playing time as a freshman in 2008. In an article released by the MetroWest Daily News earlier this month, Bellomo explained the role he and the other running backs will play this year: 

"I will definitely play a bigger role this year. The running backs will play a bigger role. Obviously, we lost Dom and we will have to play more of a role on offense." 

One wouldn't know it by the numbers, but the play of the Crusaders' two top running backs last year was a much needed relief for Randolph when he wasn't running or passing the ball himself. 

While each back rushed for on average less than 40 yards per game, their yards per carry were quite impressive. Houghton amassed 5.7 yards, while Bellomo was just shy of 5 at 4.9 yards. The opportunity for them to attain significant carries simply was not there in 2009; in 2010, however, the opportunities absolutely will be there for the taking. Holy Cross still may pass more than 50% of the time, but you can bet running the ball will be a much greater priority this season.

It looks as if Bellomo and Houghton will be the two main backs carrying the load, but Francis Camara will likely join the rotation as well. Injuries do happen all the time in football, and Camara and Bellomo know all too well how one must be ready. In the 2008 season, with both of these running backs just freshmen, starting running backs Terrance Gass and Mike Kielt both were injured midway through the season. Gass injured his ankle in the Brown game and missed the rest of the year, and Kielt took a blow to the head against Lafayette and only played half of the game. Bellomo and Camara, who both started the year at the bottom of the depth chart, were catapulted to the top due to the injuries. At the beginning of the season, both backs could not have predicted they would have played an important role in the offense, but injuries forced them into these positions.

I highlight the injuries to the starting running backs in 2008 because it is so easy in the sport of football, especially at the running back position, for an injury to happen on any given play. From running in between the tackles, to taking a pitch around the end, to blocking, running backs take hits on virtually every play. Guys like sophomore running back Sam Auffant (who only saw action in JV games last season) and freshman back Reggie Woods will need to be ready, just like Bellomo was in 2008, to step in at any moment. Early reports indicate these young Crusaders are quite impressive and will push for playing time. Competition breeds success. 

We saw flashes in 2008 of what a solid and steady back Bellomo is, and 2009 saw Houghton break out onto the scene. In actuality, however, these were nothing more than glimpses. With all eyes on Randolph, Bellomo and Houghton have received a limited number of carries throughout their young careers. I believe the two are now set to have breakout type seasons. Bellomo's career high for carries is 13 (twice done against Fordham), and Houghton's is 10 against Sacred Heart. I can only imagine what they can accomplish with a steady dose of carries throughout an entire game. Having the two combine for 30+ carries will wear down defensive fronts. All too often in previous seasons, an opposing defense could drop back to defend the pass before the ball was even snapped. Now, with a greater threat of the run, they will not have this luxury. You can bet that a solid and effective running game will take some pressure off of the starting quarterback, whomever that may be. 

Although I use a cliche in regard to a tandem of running backs, Bellomo and Houghton truly are "thunder and lighting," with Bellomo the lightning and Houghton the thunder. As seen throughout much of his play last season, Eddie often times seemed as if he was a middle linebacker running through the trenches with a ball in his hand. He becomes one tough and scary back to tackle when he lowers his shoulder and gains a head of steam. Conversely, Bellomo prefers to run with the ball in space. Over the course of his career, he has proven to be a great threat catching the ball in the flats and doing damage in the open field:

"I really like to catch it and get the ball in space. That's where I do the most damage, when I have room to work with. It's always been that way for me."

Last year, we saw the two lined up in the backfield together in various offensive packages, but their purpose was usually to provide "max protection" during certain passing situations. I would imagine that this year we may see the two lined up in the backfield together again, but in running situations instead. Having them feed off of one another makes for a very potent running attack. Running the spread offense will still make Holy Cross primarily a pass first team, but it is impossible to ignore the talents Matt Bellomo and Eddie Houghton bring to the table. While losing such a talent in Dominic Randolph at quarterback will hurt, Bellomo, Houghton, and their fellow backs Camara, Auffant, and Woods will undoubtedly help carry the offensive load this season.

KD '11


  1. Based on yesterday's scrimmage (in which Bellomo and Houghton did not participate) Sam Auffant appears to be inserting himself into the mix at running back. He had some impressive runs for significant yardage and a long punt return. He's a power runner with a burst. It should be interesting to see who get reps in the next scrimmage when all the backs participate. HC may end up with a three man platoon carrying the rock.

  2. Auffant listed as starter for opening day w/ Houghton #2. Is Bellomo healthy?