For UCF football fans, the first thing many will think of regarding the Knights would be quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Rightfully so, as Gabriel is one of college football’s best signal callers. What Gabriel will have in terms of talent behind him, and what the new offensive staff brings in terms of scheme, will augment UCF’s passing attack. Here’s a look at the running backs that will help Gabriel and the Knights score points this fall, but first, thoughts about the style of the new offense.
Formations and Personnel Groups
UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn is a proven play caller. His formation designs and play calling have been some of the most innovative and trend setting in college football, including inventing “The Wildcat” formation. One can be assured that with UCF’s blend of different styles of runners (see below), Coach Malzahn will keep defenses guessing.
One prime example would be a positional group with two or more running backs. It’s something that many programs utilize, but few college coaching staffs found more unique ways to place running backs in different positions and/or use motions and shifts to create advantages for the offense than Auburn. Now the Auburn offensive philosophy comes to UCF.
Starting one running back in the slot, with the other in the backfield is not necessarily uncommon. It’s what happens from that point forward that matters.
Coach Malzahn and his offensive coaching staff will acclimate to the UCF running backs to figure out which players can run jet sweeps or screens or be perimeter blockers, etc. That’s the true art of coaching. If anyone wants to see creativity, this is the area that UCF will be really exciting to watch during 2021 and beyond. Which players line up in the slot or in the backfield, well, that’s to be determined during practices.
Each player will earn an opportunity, and Coach Malzahn does have some returning running back talent returning. There’s also two transfers and a recruit coming to join the Knights. Here are the running backs that will run and catch the football for UCF during the 2021 season.
Changing of the Guard
With the departure of senior running backs Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson, there’s a void at the running back position. The two running backs rushed 758 and 687 yards respectively, and also accounted for 10 and four rushing touchdowns. Losing that much production must be met with younger players contributing. Maybe it’s too early to say which player(s) will move up the depth chart, but there is one player that could be important to the running back depth in more ways than one.
Perhaps the most intriguing running back would be sophomore Johnny Richardson. Intriguing not because of his season rushing yards last season, but due to Richardson’s style of play and sheer speed. After watching this young man play live during the 2019 Florida 5A state playoffs, there’s no question this young man has the jets to take a play to the end zone at any given time.
Richardson rushed 11 times for 65 yards as a true freshman. The 5’7”, 165-pound sophomore from Lake Wales (Fla.) High School will not be UCF’s bell cow running back this fall, but what Richardson does allow for is Coach Malzahn and his offensive assistant coaching staff to create havoc for a defense. As mentioned above, UCF will likely utilize shifts, motions, unique formations, and play calls that take advantage of the natural running skills and speed of Richardson that make him an excellent fit for what UCF could do this fall and beyond.
Richardson, in effect, will be a weapon even when he does not touch the football. Defenses must be ready to cover Richardson quickly; if he gains an angle after the football reaches his hands it will be a touchdown far more often than not. Richardson is one of several players that could be moved around to different positions within the offense. Time will tell, during practice, which other running backs earn that opportunity.
1st and Ten
From a production standpoint, Bentavious Thompson deserves to be mentioned first when discussing every-down running backs. Thompson played a backup role the past three seasons, and the Miami (Fla.) Southridge product is now in line to be a key cog in the Knights rushing attack. He ran for 382 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Size should actually help Thompson, as opposed to Richardson, to be used within a traditional running scheme.
Listed at 6’1”, 197-pounds, Thompson provides a different body type than say Richardson. It’s good for UCF to be able to mix up the running backs so that it can throw different aspects of Coach Malzahn’s offense at a defense even without changing personnel. Thompson has the size and experience to be one of those running backs.
Another possible answer comes from Damarius Good. The redshirt sophomore from nearby Altamonte Springs (Fla.) Lake Brantley played in 10 games for the Knights this past season, but only carried the football four times for 24 yards. Within the ranks of younger running backs, Good is a relative unknown to this point. He will see his opportunity come during fall camp, and the 5’11, 185-pound Good has just as much opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation as any other running back. Now it’s time to look at the three transfer running backs.
Transfer Portal Bolsters UCF’s Running Back Depth Chart
With the additions of Auburn running back transfer Mark-Antony Richards and R.J. Harvey, UCF will be bringing in two skilled athletes that come back to the state of Florida. Richards comes from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Wellington, while Harvey played for Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater.
Richards was a very highly coveted prospect coming from South Florida, while Harvey played quarterback for Edgewater, and then transitioned to running back for the University of Virginia.
Richards has familiarity with some of the UCF coaches, so his development will be interesting. Richards’ size, listed at 6’1”, 208-pounds according to the 2020 Auburn Athletic website, could be utilized to be a part of the inside rushing attack for the Tigers, and he’s certainly skilled enough to make plays in space as well. There may not be a more intriguing offensive transfer than Richards. He’s one to watch.
From the perspective of transfer with a chance to make an instant impact, Richards holds as much promise as any UCF transfer. He knows the offense Coach Malzahn likes to utilize, and he’s quite skilled. Richards is a possible starter for the Knights, based purely on his talent and familiarity with the playbook. The other UCF transfer running back is a multifaceted talent that could line up in different positions.
For Harvey, he’s a powerfully built 5’8”, 190-pound running back with the speed to make plays in open space, but he’s also used to running between the tackles back during his days playing prep football. He could be a candidate to play multiple roles within UCF’s running back depth chart.
Like Richardson, Harvey is a player defenses need to know where he’s at prior to and after the snap of the football. He will make a defender miss in space, and he can be a problem for a safety or linebacker during man coverage situations out of the backfield or if Harvey lines up in the slot. One additional running back transfer to consider,
Isaiah Bowser had a really good freshman campaign for Northwestern in 2018, gaining 866 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The next two seasons were far less productive, with 204 and 230 yards rushing. Perhaps the 6’1”, 215-pound running back will find a niche with the Knights. One final component of the running back depth chart to discuss.
Incoming High School Talent
If there was ever a high school player that could fit several different roles, it’s incoming Knights running back Anthony Williams. Like Good, Williams comes from Altamonte Springs (Fla.) Lake Brantley. What’s different about Williams from most running backs, would be his overall skills to play different roles and different positions.
Watching this young man in space is unique. Whether it was seeing him take a toss sweep or running between the tackles during an inside trap, Williams showed the ability to chew up yards for Lake Brantley. Additionally, his quickness is absolutely something an offensive coordinator wants within his offense. As for the development of Williams, that’s going to be fun to watch.
His frame is still developing, so how much he weighs come fall camp is to be determined. During his high school playing days, he was listed at 6’0, 185-pounds. Where Williams lines up, well, that’s even more difficult to project.
Williams signed with UCF before Coach Malzahn arrived in Orlando. With Williams’ long and lean frame, as well as his long-striding style of running, he could play running back, wide receiver or defensive back. Williams is an overall athlete first and foremost. While “listed” at running back by Inside The Knights for now, this young man could play different positions. Just keep in mind that this young man is capable of helping UCF football in many ways.