Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
A successful running game is created by several different factors working together in harmony. The offensive line needs to create holes for the running back. The running back needs to hit those holes at the right time and with enough speed and power to get through arm tackles and create yards after contact. The play caller needs to put the offense into position to be successful with the proper scheme. If you watched any of the 2021 version of the IU offense, you know the disparate parts of the attack were the exact opposite of harmony and the resulting mess was painful for all. Indiana did not block well, the running backs lacked explosiveness and playmaking ability and the offensive scheme was unimaginative and ultimately, woefully inadequate. In total, the Hoosiers averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry and only had 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Stephen Carr had 155 carries to lead the way but only averaged 3.87 yards per carry. The only other running backs to have more than 30 carries were walk-ons Davion Ervin-Poindexter and Chris Childers. Despite the team’s overall success, things were actually slightly worse on the ground in 2020 as IU averaged only 3.13 yards per carry. You have to go back to 2018 to find an IU squad you would label as “above average” on the ground. To be blunt, IU has to change that and getting good play from the running backs in one component of the formula for Walt Bell to turn that around. New position coach and associate head coach Craig Johnson has an almost entirely new group of players to work with as the Hoosiers strive for a ground game harmony that more closely resembles a symphony as opposed to the sad trombone noise I imagine last year’s running game made.
The Starter – RB1
Shaun Shivers – Redshirt Senior/Transfer from Auburn
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell and Tom Allen turned to the transfer portal to get an immediate boost to the personnel within the running back room. The first addition is the presumptive starter and one of the more exciting players on this year’s team: Shaun Shivers. At just 5’7”, Shivers was never given the feature back role he craved while at Auburn. He was used as a change of pace player and showed his pass-catching skills as he appeared in 43 games for the Tigers. He runs hard between the tackles and if he gets into the open field, defenders will have a hard time catching him because of his elite speed. Shivers was a fan favorite at Jordan-Hare Stadium and he’s expected to lead the way for IU. His versatility and quickness should allow Walt Bell to use Shivers in multi-back sets.
Next Men Up
Josh Henderson – Senior/Transfer from North Carolina
The second transfer addition comes from Chapel Hill but Josh Henderson is originally from New Jersey. He played in 23 games for the Tar Heels, appearing on both offense and special teams. He was stuck behind a couple of future NFL running backs so carries were hard to come by but he managed 5.1 yards per carry when he did get a chance. Henderson is a more traditionally sized running back at 5’11” and nearing 220 pounds. He will be used often as it’s expected Bell and Craig Johnson will rely on multiple backs to carry the load much more than what we have seen the past few seasons at IU.
Jaylin Lucas – Freshman/Houma, Louisiana
The IU coaches wanted explosive speed and quick-twitch ability added to the offense and they absolutely found it with a late recruiting win from the Bayou. Jaylin Lucas was a player that several New Orleans area high school coaches and media members wanted SEC schools to pursue. They felt he was one of the best kept secrets in the region and despite late interest from those schools, IU’s early and consistent interest landed his commitment after he flipped from Tulane. Lucas is an elite athlete. If you don’t believe me, look up some of his exploits on social media. This is a player that oozes “dynamic” when you watch him run. Initially viewed as a gadget player by recruiting experts, IU saw him as a running back and he is being given a chance to play early in Walt Bell’s offense. The possibilities are fun to think about. Imagine a two-back set with Shaun Shivers and Jaylin Lucas or using Lucas in conjunction with an H-Back blocker like James Bomba or Brody Foley. He is only a freshman and is not the thickest young man so expecting 20 touches per game with lots of running between the tackles is probably foolhardy. However, Lucas is going to be involved in the offense and if the coaching staff can find ways to get him a sliver of space, he can make defenses pay.
David Holloman – Redshirt Freshman/Auburn Hills, MI
Holloman was a very productive player at Avondale High School in Michigan but he has not played much football in recent years. His 2020 high school season was cut to only two games by COVID-19 and only appeared in four games in 2021, keeping his season of eligibility. Holloman rushed 11 times for 34 yards and was the kickoff returner at the very end of the season, returning three kicks for 66 yards. He ran a 4.29 40-yard dash in high school and definitely has quickness plus some good size. It is impossible to glean anything from the very brief time we saw of Holloman last season and he appears to be behind Lucas, Henderson and Shivers but he should be able to earn some carries in 2022. In addition, Holloman is expected to be the primary kick returner when the season kicks off.
Trent Howland – Redshirt Freshman/Joliet, Illinois
The redshirt freshman spent most of last season recovering from a torn ACL that ended his high school career so this truly should be considered his first season of college football. Howland ended up playing in three games, rushing six times for 20 yards. Howland must be paid attention to for a very notable reason: his size. He’s 6’3” and nearly 240 pounds, making him by far the largest running back on the IU roster. It’s unclear how Craig Johnson or Walt Bell view a bulky back and his role in the offense, but it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to think of a role as a short-yardage and goal line back for Howland.
Charlie Spegal – Redshirt Sophomore/New Palestine, IN
One of the country’s most productive high school players ever, Spegal is a walk-on that appeared in four games in 2021 and rushed for 62 yards on 19 carries. IU certainly will be hoping they don’t have the same level of attrition at the position in 2022 that they had last season, but Spegal does give IU another depth option.
Brett Wethington – Redshirt Sophomore/Thorntown, IN
Another walk-on, Wethington was with the program in both 2020 and 2021 and has yet to see any game action.
There is a notable uptick in speed and explosiveness that has been added to the running back position. Each of the backs that are expected to see game time in 2022 should bring more of those things to the table than Stephen Carr did a year ago. In fact, Shaun Shivers and Jaylin Lucas could be two of the more exciting backs IU has had since Tevin Coleman. It is fair to worry about the blocking but that’s analysis left for a different position preview article. It is also fair to worry about how well this relatively small backfield will do in picking up tough yards in short-yardage or goal line situations. Shaun Shivers will run better in between the tackles than you’d expect for a man of his height, he’s a very tough runner. In addition, Josh Henderson is a good-sized back and Trent Howland is a unit. Walt Bell is going to be responsible for coming up with unique ways to pick those yards up as well. Speaking of Walt Bell, one would certainly hope he has some fun using the newfound speed in this backfield to create more explosive plays for the offense. The goal for this rushing attack should be get back over four yards per carry, a mark they have not achieved since 2018. If they can climb higher than that, it could go a long way towards helping the Hoosiers return to a bowl game in 2022 .