Western Michigan was downright dreadful running the football headed into last Saturday's date with Ohio State. It was so noticeably pedestrian through three games that I actually received a text around halftime that read, "where the hell did this running game come from?" Say, that's a good question. Where did this running game come from all of a sudden?
WMU's success on the ground against Ohio State was unexpected, considering the Broncos were averaging just 21.5 yards per game rushing against FBS competition. The performance was shocking enough to ask the question of where it came from, but perhaps more shocking was the answer: Jamauri Bogan. Of course, the offensive line deserves all the credit in the world, but Bogan ran for 93 yards on 23 carries while All MAC running back Jarvion Franklin carried the ball just 12 times, a move that seemed to pay dividends for WMU as Bogan provided a spark for a ground game sorely in need of a jolt. Bogan even started the game on Saturday, so the question now becomes "why?" Why is the reigning MAC offensive player of the year carrying the ball fewer than 15 times in a big game? Was this just an attempt to toss a wrench in the Ohio State game plan, or is there really a running back controversy brewing in Kalamazoo?
There's plenty brewing in Kalamazoo, non stop actually, but a controversy in the Bronco backfield is not one of them. Franklin is the man until otherwise stated, but Bogan isn't exactly a flash in the pan. I mean, here's his player background from 247Sports:
"New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year as a sophomore. Had a stretch where he rushed for 983 yards and 15 touchdowns against three playoff teams."
A two pronged attack in the backfield is a great strategy, and running back doesn't work like the quarterback position where long term uncertainty as to who is "starting" the game can have a lasting negative effect on a football team. Think of Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, or maybe a more comparable substitute, Toledo's Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson. The point is not that Bogan is Barry Sanders, because nobody is Barry Sanders and that would be ridiculous, but rather that good backs can share the carries and still be effective. What's more is that Franklin was likely recruited to play the role of Swanson in this analogy, not Hunt.
Before Franklin was the MAC offensive player of the year he is today, he was part of a trio of names set to join the backfield of what would be the MAC's best ever recruiting class in 2014. Those two other names: Bogan and red shirt freshman Leo Ekwoge. Franklin was the lowest rated recruit of the three, but his big frame - 6 feet 1 inches and 220 pounds - and aggressive running style added a power dimension to the Bronco offense it didn't have before, landing him in the starting lineup. The presence of veteran Dareyon Chance on the roster gifted Ekwoge and the 5-foot 7-inch, 174 pound Bogan a shiny new red shirt. Fast forward two years and Franklin appeared to take the back seat to the former three star recruit from Union, New Jersey in his coming out party of sorts in Columbus.
In reality it wasn't a back seat. Bogan just drove the rushing attack while Franklin rode shotgun, and watching these two share the car is something Bronco fans should get used to for a couple of years. It's going to feel weird at first what with watching Franklin rumble his way to over 1500 yards in one of the best seasons ever from a Bronco running back, but this is what the Bronco backfield is now - and what it's supposed to be. Remember the big to-do over P.J. Fleck's record breaking recruiting classes? Well, it wasn't all about Franklin and Corey Davis (Zach Terrell was a holdout from the Bill Cubit era), and you're beginning to see that come to fruition now. It's the curse of excess. Unless you're Bowling Green, there just aren't enough snaps to go around.
Neither back is taking over for another, rather just complimenting each other's game, but it isn't crazy to think that while Franklin was employing a scorched Earth strategy on the bottom portion of the MAC and Purdue, a running back sat in waiting that could very well do the same thing. But make no mistake about it, the better back is going to get more carries, and against Ohio State the better back was Jamauri Bogan. Franklin hasn't been himself as of late, which is a product last year of an injury and this year of opponents just flat-out game planning for the back from Tinley Park, Illinois. Franklin hasn't logged a 100 yard rushing game against an FBS opponent since November 1st of last season against Miami in Oxford, coincidentally the site of his first collegiate fumble.
You haven't seen the last of Franklin's unstoppable performances, and you're seeing the tip of the iceberg for Bogan, but both can and will coexist in a Bronco backfield that is finally looking the way it was envisioned. This is a balanced attack with two weapons that were recruited to be unstoppable in their own areas of expertise - Bogan with lateral quickness, Franklin with overpowering force and sneaky breakaway speed - and will be a nightmare for coaches to scheme for in years to come. Western Michigan wants to win a MAC championship. It can't do that with its star players limping to the finish. It can do it with healthy superstars sharing the load, living up to their recruiting hype, and in Franklin's case, often exceeding it. This is the grand vision of balance for the Bronco program. Bogan and Franklin rowing the proverbial boat side by side with equal parts power and finesse. Don't be shocked to see both Bogan and Franklin flirt with 1000 yards rushing in the same season in the years to come.