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College football: New Mexico ground game has plenty of big-play potential

Teriyon Gipson, 79.

Romell Jordan, 72.

Tyrone Owens, 65.

Daryl Chestnut, 64.

Richard McQuarley, 44.

Those numbers represent the longest runs from scrimmage during their University of New Mexico football careers by each of the five scholarship running backs who are participating in spring practice.

Not on that list is Jhurell Pressley, who completed his eligibility last fall.

Will he be missed? Of course he will. Pressley was a big-play machine – with eight rushes of 45 yards or more, 13 of 30 or more, the past two seasons.

“Pressley’s a unique guy, there’s no question,” UNM coach Bob Davie said after Wednesday’s spring practice session. “He was as explosive as there was in college football because he was so deceptive. You didn’t think he was quite that fast, and he just ran away from you.”

Nor, however, is there any running away from this truth about the Lobos’ 2016 running backs: There’s still plenty of explosiveness here.

“One thing we’ve done in recruiting,” Davie said, “is always (having) kept an eye on that piece of it.”

Gipson, the only senior in the group, is a proven playmaker. He has averaged 5.6 yards per carry during his career with 19 touchdowns.

There is strength, Gipson said, as well as safety, in numbers at running back.

“I feel with Jhurell gone it’s gonna take all us guys to pick up that slack, because he was a big part of the offense,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got a bunch of explosive guys.”

As listed on the spring roster, McQuarley, a junior from Meridian, Miss., is the only UNM running back who weighs more than 188 pounds. McQuarley, listed at 218, was used last season primarily as a short-yardage specialist.

He didn’t like to be stereotyped as such then, and he likes it even less now.

“Out here on the practice field, I’m always hearing coach Davie hollering about Richard McQuarley making a good run, a great explosive play,” he said. “So, hopefully, I won’t just be that third-down back.”

Of course, even short-yardage plays can turn into explosive ones. Last season at Wyoming, McQuarley took a fourth-and-1 play 43 yards for a touchdown.

If Gipson and McQuarley turn out to be the Lobos’ two featured running backs, as Pressley and Gipson were last year, they would present opposing defenses with a change of pace: the elusive, 182-pound scatback and the 218-pound bruiser.

Neither player, though, sees it quite that way.

“We’re really just pure talent,” McQuarley said of the group as a whole. “Everybody can do everything that everybody can do.”

Gipson concedes that UNM’s running backs present “a nice mix” of skills. But, he added, “One guy can do down at any time, so we all need to be able to do it all. … We all got a little bigger (in the offseason), we all got a little faster.”

In the Lobos’ base triple-option offense, multiple running backs typically get carries. Jordan, Owens and Chestnut can expect to have their numbers called, and all three have displayed their big-play potential in the past.

Jordan, a junior from Rio Rancho’s Cleveland High School, saw limited action last season because of injuries. As a freshman, he broke a 72-yard touchdown run against Utah State.

Owens, a sophomore from Manor, Texas, scored from 65 yards out last season against Arizona State.

Chestnut, a junior from Miami, scored from 64 yards out last fall against Mississippi Valley State on the first carry of his UNM career – and scored from 37 out on career carry No. 2.

Yet, with all that experience, this is a time of transition for the running backs – and for the offense as a whole. There’s a lot being added to the scheme, and there’s a new running backs coach: Scott Baumgartner, who coached wide receivers the past three seasons.

Apollo Wright, the running backs coach the past three years, now is the quarterbacks coach.

“They’re a little bit different coaching styles,” Gipson said, “… But I’ve been around coach B my whole time here. … I’ve been having a connection with him, and now we’ve just got a better connection.”

As for the offense, McQuarley said, it’s nothing that won’t be learned and internalized by September.

Once that’s accomplished, Gipson said, “We’ve got a bunch of guys that I feel could come in and take it the distance any time they get the ball.”