College Football: Running game working for UNC
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Ryan Houston can’t help but tease Shaun Draughn a little bit that North Carolina’s starting running back had better have some long runs if he wants to find the end zone.
“Every time he breaks a long one, I’m like, ‘You better score, because you know if it gets to the goalline, I’m going to get a touchdown,”‘ Houston said with a chuckle.
That plan is working perfectly these days for the 17th-ranked Tar Heels.
Draughn’s emergence as the primary ball carrier earlier this year rejuvenated North Carolina’s sagging running game and provided needed help for the passing game after starting quarterback T.J. Yates went down to injury. Now the Tar Heels have found the perfect complement in Houston, a physical back who has become the go-to guy in short-yardage situations, as they head into this weekend’s trip to Maryland.
“The running game, like a lot of things in this football program, it’s still a work in progress,” coach Butch Davis said Monday. “By no stretch of the imagination is it a finished product. It’s not where we would like for it to be for the remainder of this year and certainly for the future, but it’s definitely improved.”
There’s no denying that. Entering the year, the Tar Heels (7-2, 3-2 ACC) figured they had found their lead runner with Greg Little, who moved from receiver for the final two games last year and ended the season with a 154-yard day against Duke. But he struggled mightily and seemed to have trouble hitting the holes, opening the door for Draughn ó a converted safety ó to steal carries.
Draughn ran for 109 yards and a touchdown in the win against Connecticut to seize control of the job, then followed with 91 yards against Notre Dame and a career-high 138 against Virginia.
Little moved back to receiver after do-everything playmaker Brandon Tate went down with a season-ending knee injury. Houston now has the No. 2 spot to go with a team-high seven touchdowns ó all from 3 yards or closer.
“We’re coached really well on how to run the football,” said Cameron Sexton, who took over for Yates at quarterback. “We don’t have guys who are necessarily looking to bounce it. I think they’re doing a good job of finding those very tight creases in ACC football. They’re hard to come by, but we have a good understanding of if it’s not there, let’s not make a big loss. Let’s just get what we can and try to move the ball.”
The duo did plenty of that in a 28-7 win against Georgia Tech over the weekend. Draughn ran for 90 yards on 17 carries as the starter, while Houston finished with a career-high 74 yards to go with two touchdowns.