A position group viewed as having good depth just two months ago is now looked upon as dangerously thin.
And rather than injuries, a relatively new dynamic in college sports is the main culprit.
Three-year starter Stevie Scott left the program after the 2020 season to put his name in the NFL Draft, but with three program veterans returning there was reason to believe the running back room could be a positive for IU in 2021. Then came the news that former 5-star recruit and USC running back Stephen Carr was transferring in, and the room was looked upon with optimism by most.
Now save for true freshmen and walk-ons, Carr is the last man standing.
In August junior Sampson James hit the transfer portal for the second time and landed at Purdue of all places just days later. Last week sophomore Tim Baldwin put his name in the transfer portal. And then on Monday head coach Tom Allen announced junior David Ellis had season ending surgery.
Even the slot receiver they used on a few gadget runs, D.J. Matthews, is out for the season.
“Definitely looks different than it did in the beginning,” Allen said earlier this week of his running back depth chart. “And not what we expected to look like after five games.”
Carr was the clear leader to take the bulk of the carries when the season started, and that will of course continue to be the case now. Running behind a largely ineffective offensive line, he has gained 386 yards on 102 carries.
Now remaining behind Carr are five backs, two freshmen and three walk-ons, who have combined for 21 carries on the season, and for their IU careers.
Allen talked about his fresh-faced five.
“David Holloman to me is a guy that needs to step up. And here’s a true freshman. He’s been working with our 1s and 2s the last few practices,” Allen said.
Hailing from Auburn Hills, Mich., Holloman is the guy you might know best for running out on the field in week one with “Indiana” spelled incorrectly on his jersey. He was a 3-star recruit, and ranked the No. 70 running back in the class of 2021. Beyond his brief stint at “Indinia,” Holloman is known for his speed. He ran a 4.29 40-yard dash in the World Bowl Hall of Fame National Combine in Orlando.
Holloman has five carries for seven yards on the season.
“And Charlie Spegal, same thing, a guy that’s been here, a guy that understands our system, can do a lot of different things in that part of it as well,” Allen continued.
Spegal is well known to local fans. The New Palestine, Ind. product walked-on at IU after setting state records in career rushing yardage (10,867), career points, single-season rushing touchdowns, and single-season total TDs. He was the state’s 2019 Mr. Football. Spegal is 5-foot-10 and 219 pounds, a low center of gravity bruising type of runner.
Spegal has one carry for three yards this year. That was his lone attempt at IU.
“And Trent Howland,” Allen continued. “Trent’s a guy that’s been here, came off surgery a year ago, came in as a true freshman, big, physical guy. He’s been there getting some reps.”
Allen went on the clarify that Howland, like Holloman a true freshman on scholarship, has been fully cleared to play following that surgery but he has yet to carry the football. Howland was a 3-star recruit and ranked the No. 54 athlete nationally in the 2021 class.
The two players behind Carr with the most carries this season are both walk-ons — Davion Ervin-Poindexter and Chris Childers.
“Davion has been playing quite a bit. Needs to take a step up and elevate,” Allen said. “And Chris Childers, those two guys have to continue to grow, and their role will be expanded without question.”
This is Ervin-Poindexter’s third season at IU. The Merrillville, Ind. product has eight carries for 57 yards this season, with 37 of those yards coming on one carry.
Childers has seven carries for 37 yards. He transferred to IU from Indiana State after the 2019 season. He saw spot duty as a running back (40 carries, 130 yards) in two seasons with the Sycamores.
If Carr stays healthy then this all could be much ado about nothing. The plan was clearly to give him as many carries as he could handle anyway.
But Nick Sheridan’s struggling offense needs to find a steady, reliable backup who can give Carr a break from time to time, and be ready to jump in and take over should anything happen. And the way things have been happening to this point, nothing will be a surprise.
“All those guys are well coached and well prepared,” Sheridan said. “They all have different strengths, and so between myself and Coach (Deland) McCullough, just balancing that out and making sure those guys are prepared and ready to go — we’re going to need them all.”
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