For the second straight year, the Cowboys are returning their top two running backs, and 2007, by all accounts, promises to be the duo’s best season to date.
Last year, as sophomores, Wynel Seldon and Devin Moore combined for 1,184 yards, ranking fifth and seventh respectively in the Mountain West Conference.
“We feel great about both of them,” Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn said this summer. “Both had outstanding spring camps.”
An already bruising, middle-of-the-field runner, Seldon added 13 pounds to his 6-foot frame in the off-season, weighing in for fall camp at 218. He should pack a heavy punch between the tackles in 2007, and coaches are impressed with the junior’s power so far in fall drills.
“Wynel is learning how to run physical with his frame,” said Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Bill Cockhill.
Despite last year’s success, Seldon actually had a much better freshman season with the Pokes, rushing for 871 yards and punching in 11 touchdowns in 2005. Taking advantage of injuries to the Cowboys’ top two running backs in the spring, he impressed Wyoming coaches during camp and ended up starting in all 11 games his first year. Along with great rushing statistics, he caught 27 passes—the third most on a team that boasted big name receiving talent. His 79.2 rushing yards per game ranked 59th in the country, and he was in the top 10 in the conference in all purpose yards, rushing yards and touchdowns. It was the best freshman season by any running back in Wyoming history, and comparisons to past UW greats like Jim Crawford and Eddie “Boom Boom” Talboom were quick to fly from tongues of hopeful Cowboy fans.
His backfield statistical dominance may well have continued to improve during his sophomore season had it not been for Moore, his 180-pound speedy teammate. After a freshman season where he saw very limited action, Moore burst onto the UW rushing scene as a sophomore. Piling up more than seven yards per carry and finishing 2006 with just 36 less rushing yards than Seldon, Moore scored three more touchdowns than his powerful counterpart, and perhaps more telling, he did it all on 76 less carries.
Maybe the added help from Moore and a finally healthy Joseph Harris took the pressure off Seldon. Or maybe defenses adjusted to the big back’s bruising between-the-tackles style while still struggling to find an answer for Moore. Either way, Seldon’s numbers fell dramatically in his second season with the Pokes. His rushing yards sank from 871 to 610, and his touchdown total plunged from 11 as a freshman to just one in 2006. His reception total also dropped off. In 2005, he caught half as many passes (14) than the year before for 84 less yards. Even his yards per carry went down, falling from a healthy 4.7 in ’05 to only 3.9 yards per touch last season.
As a unit, one could argue that the running game has improved substantially since 2005, despite the lack of touchdowns last year. Personnel-wise, the Cowboys boast more big-time recruits, more speed, more experience and better all-around rushing skills than they have in perhaps the past 10 years or more.
Still, there are disadvantages to splitting carries between two talented running backs with completely different styles.
“That’s not necessarily a good thing in a one-back set,” writes Foxsports.com analyst Pete Fiutak. “Unless these two (Seldon and Moore) are in the backfield at the same time, the defense knows what’s coming depending on which back is in the game. There’s no worrying about Seldon doing much on the outside, and there’s no concern about Moore on the inside.”
As if reading Fiutak’s mind (or his articles), Cockhill said coaches will probably try to get the two on the field at the same time in 2007. He also said they will spread touches out more evenly between them.
“I would probably say it’s going to be an even split,” Cockhill said of the number of carries Seldon and Moore will get. “Both are their own style of back—Wynel with power and speed and Devin with just straight quickness and speed.”
Used to handling the brunt of the rushing load, Seldon will have to adjust to carrying only half the ground attack on his shoulders this season, and the even distribution probably bodes well for Moore’s stats.
Seldon doesn’t seem concerned.
“My confidence level is high,” he said. “The offense is going to come in and do our job and keep everything in order. Everybody’s going to work together as a team, and we’re going to come in here and get wins.
“It was a focus point,” he added of last year’s decline in numbers. “The team had to come together, and it wasn’t just about me. So I didn’t take it as a fall off. I just took it as adjusting and being acquainted with the team and just being a team player…I’m just out here to play.”
Add that attitude and Seldon’s combination of power and speed to Moore’s explosiveness, and it may not matter who gets the ball in the Cowboys’ backfield.
Furthermore, plenty of teams have proven that a running back by committee can actually be the best way to move the ball on the ground. Take USC’s 2005 squad that showcased two runners with very different and complementing styles in Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Then there was the Saints’ successful combo of Bush and Deuce McAllister last year. The Chiefs limited Larry Johnson’s carries for years to let Priest Holmes get field time. Perhaps the most prominent, and recent example of success in running back-by-committee formations was last year’s Arkansas squad that featured Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and teammate Felix Jones.
As AP writer Noah Trister points out, “one reason McFadden is so effective is Felix Jones.”
“He could go and start anywhere in the country if he wanted," McFadden said of Jones, and yet, the two together may be the best tandem in college football.
Wyoming coaches hope to see much of the same from Seldon and Moore.
“Thunder and Lightning,” Glenn said of the two during media day earlier this month. “Bang the middle a little off-tackle with (Seldon), bounce the little guy out…and I think that’s in good hands.”
Well said, and yet coaches expect a lot more out of the talented tandem in ‘07 than they got last year. Asked if the duo’s combined 1200 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in ’06 would satisfy him in 2007, Cockhill was quick to shake his head.
“No, (that) is not enough for those two guys. We’ve got to be looking at, at least, 1500 to 1800 yards and I’m hoping at least 10 touchdowns.”
With a solid receiving corps keeping defenses honest and a quarterback coaches feel they can count on, there’s a good chance Seldon and Moore could exceed Cockhill’s expectations this season.
“I expect to see big things,” Seldon said. “I don’t think Wyoming has ever had a combo like me and Devin.”
Seldon’s 2007 Keys to Success:
1. More yards per carry. If things continue the way they were in 2006 and Seldon continues to average almost half as many yards per touch as Moore, coaches may find themselves leaning toward the “little guy.” The team should be fine either way, and Seldon should get at least 10 touches a game to keep defenses from keying in on either style too much, but unless he improves his average, he could end up with far less carries than he’s had in past years.
2. Finish off his runs. Seldon will rarely find easy yardage. Up the middle on just about every carry will mean the powerful junior will have to use his size to his advantage. He is bigger and stronger right now than he’s ever been in his Wyoming career, and it will be important for Seldon to keep his legs churning after contact. An extra half a yard per carry could mean the difference between fourth and short and first and 10—and it will keep the big man in the game and getting the ball.