The Chippewas have churned out successful running backs in recent history. Zurlon Tipton and Thomas Rawls are proof that the water in Mt. Pleasant is running-back friendly. Although this year's team doesn't have a big-name, feature back, it does boast a couple of young, talented backs that are itching to show the Chippewa faithful that they are a force to be reckoned with in the MAC West.
As I'm sure we all know, the running game was not very productive for the first couple weeks of the season. Through the first two games of the season, Devon Spalding ran for a combined 24 yards on 15 carries, while Martez Walker ran for 59 yards on 20 carries. The two running backs that saw the majority of snaps for the Chippewas were only able to muster 83 yards on 35 carries during this stretch, averaging out to a pitiful 2.3 yards per carry.
However, the tide turned once Central Michigan met with Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. With Martez Walker out, Devon Spalding and standout transfer from City College of San Francisco Jahray Hayes shouldered the load for the Chippewas. Spalding took 21 carries for 83 yards and a score, while Hayes ran the ball 12 times for 51 yards.
In just one week, the Central Michigan backfield was able to out-gain their totals from the first two games of the season combined.
The very next week, Coach Bonamego led his team into Spartan Stadium in East Lasing, to take on the No. 2 team in the country. Despite facing great odds, the running game was a relative success. The total rushing statistics from the game are misleading for Central Michigan, because the yards lost by Cooper Rush when sacked count against the Chips. However, excluding those numbers, the backfield combined for 86 yards on the ground. The majority of the carries were given to Devon Spalding, who carried the ball 15 times for 77 yards. Jahray Hayes also got in on the action once more, carrying the ball 3 times for 15 yards.
The Spartan defense, headed by head coach Mark Dantonio, is yearly considered to be in the top tier category in the entire country. The fact that the Chippewa ground attack was able to even put a dent in the Michigan State defense is impressive.
Unfortunately, misfortune would hit this unit in the next week's game. Northern Illinois came to Kelly/Shorts Stadium, and on his first carry, sophomore Devon Spalding suffered an injury. Spalding had begun to hit his groove after a rough start to the season, and this injury still has him sidelined. The Chippewas were forced to move to their next option for the feature back on the offense. Coach Bonamego turned to transfer Jahray Hayes and junior Martez Walker to take on an increased responsibility in their MAC opener.
This turned out to be a coming-out party for Hayes, as he found his rhythm and rushed the ball 29 times for 78 yards and a score. Walker didn't get to carry the ball as often, but he still found his niche in this Chippewa offense. Sophomore running back Jay Roberson also received significant playing time. Although he didn't get many opportunities to run the ball, he was put in game situations on a consistent basis, furthering his overall experience level. He showed his worth as a reliable power back that can help in pass protection.
Martez Walker got back into the fold the next week at Western Michigan. He got 11 carries, while Jahray Hayes got 8. Walker may not have had the best day rushing the ball (32 yards), but he exhibited his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, as well.
Central Michigan played outstanding last week against Buffalo, and this was without Jahray Hayes, who had asserted himself as an important part of the Chippewa backfield in recent weeks. Hayes injured his hand before the game, and was forced to sit out. This was good news for Martez Walker and freshman Romello Ross. Walker thrived against a Bulls defense that held Bowling Green under 30 points, running for 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Also, because of the injury to Hayes, Coach Bono looked to a new face to begin to take the load off Walker. Freshman running back from Detroit Romello Ross was given the ball 13 times throughout the game. Ross was a highly touted recruit out of Detroit Western, and this was his first game action of his bright college career. He amassed 54 yards on the ground, proving to CMU fans everywhere that the future is exciting for the running game.
A handful of new contributors have demonstrated their prominence, in spite of an injury to Devon Spalding. This unit is still extremely talented, and this talent is providing the Chippewas with invaluable depth at a pivotal position in this offense.