MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference remains flush with tailbacks.
Fans and coaches alike can fret over their quarterback situations and how the new guy will fare in the next big game, and those do come up pretty regularly when 10 league teams are ranked.
The opening weekend’s games, however, proved the quarterbacks’ best move as they get settled in might be frequently handing off to one of the many standout tailbacks from Nick Chubb to Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry.
Giving the ball to even a third-teamer can bring pretty good results too. Just ask No. 7 Auburn and South Carolina.
Sure, the quarterbacks will have to come through to lead a team to an SEC title and playoff contention. It’s pretty comforting in the meantime for, say, 10th-ranked Georgia’s new arrival Greyson Lambert to know opposing defenses must focus on Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall.
And when No. 14 LSU takes the field, fellow sophomore Fournette has quarterback Brandon Harris’s back.
LSU defensive end Tashawn Bower thinks success takes a collective effort, but a star tailback can’t hurt.
“It takes an offensive line, the receivers, the quarterback and the backs to really be successful,” Bower said. “So I don’t think one person or running back can necessarily boost an offense.
“Don’t get me wrong, they can definitely help out a lot, but you can’t run the ball every play.”
SEC offenses did run it often enough last weekend to take some pressure off players like Lambert and Alabama’s Jake Coker. Returnees like Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and Arkansas’ Brandon Allen got plenty of run support, too.
Seven SEC tailbacks rushed for 100-plus yards last week while only Allen topped 300 yards passing. Five of the 100-yard rushers were sophomores, helping ease the sting of losing high draft picks like Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon.
Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd and former Alabama player Alvin Kamara both hit triple digits against Bowling Green, the first time two Tennessee runners have topped 100 yards in the same game since 2009 against Western Kentucky.
Kamara’s 144 yards were the most by a Tennessee player making his debut and helped fuel the Volunteers’ 399-yard rushing effort. He pays attention to what other SEC backs are doing.
“Me and Jalen, we kind of keep tabs on it because we want to be the best running back group in the nation,” Kamara said. “Just seeing what guys around the league are doing also keeps our goals in perspective and keeps us hungry.”
Like Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama have more than one standout tailback. The Bulldogs have Chubb and Marshall, each of whom ran for two touchdowns in their opener, along with Michel, a former five-star prospect. Henry’s three rushing touchdowns and 147 yards helped lead the Tide past Wisconsin. Backfield mate Kenyan Drake had 125 combined yards rushing and receiving in his return from a broken leg.
“It’s a great luxury,” left tackle Cam Robinson said. “We know they have the ability. You give those guys a couple creases and you know they can do some amazing things with the ball in their hands.”
Plus Tide freshman Damien Harris was rated the nation’s top running back prospect.
Less heralded backs came up big on opening weekend, too. Auburn’s Peyton Barber stepped in with 115 yards on 24 carries after Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson were hurt.
South Carolina third-teamer Shon Carson had a huge fourth quarter that included a 48-yard go-ahead touchdown in a win over North Carolina.
Tennessee’s Kamara, who was redshirted in his lone season at Alabama before transferring to a junior college, knows the importance of having multiple backs teams can rely upon.
“We play in the SEC,” Kamara said. “It’s the best conference in the nation, so having two guys that can just share that load at running back and take some of the pressure off each other is really beneficial to both of us.”
Not to mention the SEC’s collection of inexperienced quarterbacks.