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Surveying CMU's Backfield Without Thomas Rawls

Once again, Chippewa Nation turns its lonely eyes to Saylor Lavallii. Can the Chips' unsung hero carry the team like he did in 2013?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Michigan Chippewas recently took an embarrassing 40-3 homefield beatdown at the hands of Syracuse. It was a rough game, made even rougher by the fact that starting running back Thomas Rawls did not participate, thus crippling CMU's rushing attack before kickoff.

Then things got even worse. Monday morning news broke that Rawls, who has since been suspended indefinitely, is facing three felony theft charges.

Where does CMU, which managed just 1.5 yards a carry vs. Syracuse on Saturday without Rawls, go from here?

The most likely choice to fill in for Rawls is a familiar face in the Chippewas' backfield, Saylor Lavallii. Saylor has been the ultimate "program guy".  He took over in CMU's first game of 2013 after star running back Zurlon Tipton broke his ankle. For much of the Chippewa campaign this past year, Lavalli carried the offensive load and his team on his back. Lavallii amassed 807 rushing yards on 182 attempts in 2013.

But, his value to his team should not be measured by his statistics. The Chips were forced to break in a true freshman quarterback in 2013 due to an injury to their starter (yeah, Week 1 sucks for CMU). It was largely up to Lavallii to make the offense click while freshman Cooper Rush learned how to take snaps under fire. When Tipton's broken ankle finally healed, Saylor dutifully stepped aside so that his senior teammate could finish his career on a high note and become a candidate for the NFL.

Fast forward to the start of the start of the 2014 campaign. Lavallii, projected by many to be the starting running back, was asked to give way to Rawls, after a rough Week 1 performance. 10 carries for 22 yards later, Lavallii was back to his familiar role of backing up. But Rawls is gone for the foreseeable future, and that thrusts Lavallii back into the starting spot.

His 15 carries for 41 yards this season make him the team's active (read: not suspended) leading rusher this season. It's not exactly a promising sign for CMU's offense. But Lavallii has proven capable of carrying the load for CMU in the past, and he has the talent. It's just a matter of getting himself going.

He won't be alone in this job though. CMU has some depth behind Lavallii who should help take the pressure off the junior.

Freshman Devon Spaulding has looked good in limited appearances in 2014. Unfortunately, he left the  Chips' game against Syracuse last week with an apparent hip injury. It is unknown whether Spaulding will be available against Kansas.

That leaves sophomore Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore and sophomore Martez Walker to pick up the slack. Both have shown upsides. Both have also had bad games caused by inexperience.

Most likely, Lavallii will have to carry the bulk of the load (again) in emergency duty this season. What remains to be seen is whether Lavallii has the motivation to right the shipwreck.