Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

September 9, 2009 7:50 PM

Auburn once again Running Back U

Who knew when Auburn hired Gene Chizik as its head football coach he would bringing Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Ronnie Brown back to the Plains with him?

OK, Williams and Brown are still in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins, respectively, but the guys who piled up the rushing yards in Auburn’s season-opening 37-13 victory against Louisiana Tech surely resembled that fabled running back duo, who were wreaking havoc when Auburn went 13-0 in 2004, Chizik’s final season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.

Now that Chizik has returned he has senior Ben Tate (No. 44) and freshman Onterio McCalebb (No. 23) impersonating Williams and Brown. The 5-foot-11, 218-pound Tate is Brown because he’s a powerful runner with shifty feet. And the 5-10, 165-pound McCalebb would be Williams, a slasher with great elusiveness, although McCalebb is faster.

Chizik understandably likes his new dynamic duo and the problems they pose for defenses with their different running styles.

“When you have two backs that are very different it affects the momentum of the game, with the physicality of one back and the speed of the other one,” Chizik said. “There are guys with great vision that make great cuts. One guy may be a tackle-to-tackle guy and the other a perimeter guy, so you have the defense running all over the place and they get a little tired which lets you get more physical up front with the downhill backs. So it definitely puts pressure on a defense.”

The Tate-McCalebb combination certainly created problems for Louisiana Tech. Tate ran 20 times for 117 yards, becoming the 13th running back in school history to surpass 2,000 career yards rushing (2,076) in the process. He’s now 12th on the Tigers’ all-time list.

McCalebb was even better, rushing 22 times for 148 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first Auburn freshman to rush for 100 yards in a season opener since Bo Jackson had 123 yards rushing against Wake Forest in 1982.

You know you have done something fabulous when you’re mentioned in the same sentence with Bo.

McCalebb's total was also the seventh most in school history for a freshman. Five of his 22 carries went for at least 10 yards, as he averaged 6.7 yards per carry. The freshman from Fort Meade, Fla., and Hargrave Military Academy also added 49 yards on two kickoff returns, giving him 197 all-purpose yards, making him an easy choice for Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week.

Evidently, McCalebb benefitted from enrolling at Auburn in January and taking part in spring practice. Chizik said as much himself.

“I think that any time you bring a guy in in January, the comfort level when they come back in the fall is night and day,” Chizik said. “Onterrio is one of those guys where he is just a football player. He is tailback or a wide out or whatever we want him to be. He needs to stay humble because he has certainly not arrived either. He had a good football game and he needs to get better every week just like everyone else. But I'm proud of him because he went in there and he played like we expected him to play."

McCalebb and Tate became the first pair of Auburn backs to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Tate (111) and Mario Fannin (103) turned the trick against New Mexico State in 2007.

Perhaps the school that brought you Bo, Cadillac, Brown, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, William Andrews, Lionel James, Stephen Davis, Rudi Johnson and Tucker Frederickson is back to being Running Back U.

Chizik certainly sounded that way. “We've only played one game but we want to be a physical offense and run the football,” he said.

His predecessor Tommy Tuberville would be proud. Remember it was Tuberville who shelved the spread offense and fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin a few games into the 2008 season, just after he had brought in Franklin, the spread guru, a few months earlier to install the offense.

Listening to Chizik, I guess senior quarterback Chris Todd can forget about throwing the ball 35-40 times a game, especially with Tate and McCalebb around.

Smash-mouth football once again rules at Auburn.

By the way, Auburn plays host to Mississippi State in the SEC opener for both schools Saturday night. In their final game against Mississippi State – during that undefeated 2004 season with Chizik there – Williams ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns and Brown ran for 147 yards, averaging 9.8 yards per carry on 15 attempts, in a 43-14 Auburn blowout.

Don’t be surprised if Tate and McCalebb run roughshod over the Bulldogs, too.

(Top photo by Chris Pow)

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