Vandal backs look to get on track against Texas State

Idaho averaged 2.4 yards per carry at Ole Miss, now faces tough Bobcats defense.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comNovember 2, 2013 

James Baker has more yards (372) than last year, and more rushing touchdowns (five) than the entire team had in 2012.

AUSTIN MCAFEE — The Daily Mississippian

Idaho’s running backs were stuffed by the Ole Miss defense their last time out, and it will not get much easier Saturday.

The Vandals ran for 87 yards on 36 attempts (2.4 yards per carry) last Saturday, with no rush longer than 9 yards.

Ole Miss is 67th in the nation in rushing defense. Idaho hosts Texas State — and the Bobcats are 10th nationally against the run, giving up 101.4 yards per game.

“This week’s been about trying to make progress, fix what we didn’t do well last week,” Idaho senior running back James Baker said. “I want to show what I can do against really good opponents, and we’ll have that chance this week.”

Idaho has rushed for fewer than 100 yards three times this season, but the team’s top three rushing performances have been in the Vandals’ closest games — a win, a 10-point loss and a 24-point setback.

Coach Paul Petrino has stated that whatever back has the best week of practice will get the majority of the carries, so there is no set feature back. Baker has had more than 17 carries once (23 for 150 yards Oct. 12 at Arkansas State) and didn’t play in Sept. 28’s win over Temple. Jerrel Brown, second among running backs with 128 yards, has not played the past two games. Kris Olugbode had 10 carries against Ole Miss after having seven in the previous five games.

“It humbles you,” Baker said. “It makes you realize we have other good players, and makes you work that much harder in practice, but of course it’s hard to have to sit and watch, not being able to go in and help.”

If the Vandals do have a back who is the most reliable, it is Baker, the only Vandal to suit up at the position prior to this season. He has 95 carries for 372 yards and five touchdowns, along with six catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think he’s improved each week, and it’d be good for him to come out at home, run hard, break a bunch of tackles and lead us to a victory,” Petrino said. “He’s learned how to come to practice every day and finish his runs, work hard on every rep, and he’s made himself a better player by his preparation.”

The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Baker provides a physical presence for the Vandals, and is at least two inches and 10 pounds heavier than any of the other backs. He ran for 395 yards on 95 carries in 2012, meaning he’s already had a better year in 2013 with four games to go.

“I can’t be satisfied. There’s a lot left to show,” Baker said.

Petrino said earlier this week he hopes to establish the run against the Bobcats and their 4-2-5 defense. He’ll lean on a runner like Baker to go against a defense allowing a half-yard fewer per game on the ground than Alabama.

“Their front is relentless, so we’ve got to go out there and match their effort, do a good job of running the ball and stay in front of the chains,” Petrino said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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