Being a running back in the Air Raid offense at Mississippi State is more about touches than rushes -- though Bulldogs running backs have seen a decent amount of both recently.
Saturday's game against the LSU Tigers was a prime example of that. The Bulldogs didn't get the outcome they wanted, but there were some positives in there, one of which was the performance of the running backs.
Of the 486 yards of total offense MSU put up, 115 yards of it came in the ground game between second-year running backs Jo'quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson and quarterback Will Rogers.
Johnson and Marks also led the team in catches with nine each, putting up a combined total of 125 receiving yards (67 yards for Marks, 58 yards for Johnson), targeted 21 times (12 for Johnson, nine for Marks).
Through four games this season, Marks totals 129 rushing yards with two rushing touchdowns on 35 carries, also with 31 receptions for 161 yards with two touchdowns.
Johnson has carried the ball 23 times for 130 rushing yards with one touchdown in 2021, also with 25 receptions for 174 yards. Both players are set to have a career year looking at the 2020 totals, when Johnson had 51 carries for 225 yards with four touchdowns to go with 36 receptions for 157 yards, and Marks had 70 carries for 312 rushing yards with three touchdowns, also recording 60 catches for 268 yards.
Considering both players are eventually headed to the NFL later down the line, they're making a strong case for themselves within the Air Raid, which may be the best system for a player to show what he can do as an all-around back -- something that is in high demand at the next level.
"I chuckle sometimes when we talk about recruiting running backs to play in the Air Raid, then you turn on the film and watch the Kansas City Chiefs or you watch the New England Patriots," MSU running backs coach Eric Mele said during fall camp. "You watch these teams who are consistently playoff teams or in the Super Bowl -- you've got to be a three-down back, you have to be able to run the ball, you have to be able to pass protect, you have to be able to catch out of the backfield. They're going to showcase all three of those skills."
MSU head coach Mike Leach spoke to the team's overall performance in regards to the ground game on Saturday.
"We've gotten better at running the ball," Leach said. "It's a steady process, getting a little better up front and getting a little better seeing the holes. It was there and we executed it in many cases pretty decently, I thought."
Expect Johnson and Marks, both of which were named to the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, to continue making their presence felt as the Bulldogs look to get back on the right side of the win column when they face Texas A&M on the road Saturday.