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TCU RBs stay a close-knit group as competition turns up

Four guys are fighting for carries with a fifth potentially re-entering the picture soon.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Kansas Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When TCU Football rushed for over 300 yards last Saturday at Kansas, well, it made a lot of sense.

After all, fans have been clamoring for the Horned Frogs to ESTABLISH THE RUN all season long; to put the ball in the hands of a capable stable of backs and let them eat up turf on their way to the end zone.

That being said, most people would rather have not seen it done in a game where the quarterback completes just three passes, but beggars can’t be choosers.

TCU has just one senior running back on their roster, featuring Emari Demercado alongside a pair of redshirt (Darwin Barlow and Daimarqua Foster) and true (Zach Evans and Kendre Miller) freshmen. Eight games into the season, QB Max Duggan is still the team’s leading rusher (562 yards on 93 attempts with seven touchdowns) but Barlow (61 attempts, 397 yards) and Evans (37 attempts, 254 yards) are hot on his trail. Demercado, who led the Frogs in rushing in the season opener has just 127 yards on the season, but has been valuable in the passing game as a blocker and receiver (nine catches for 108 yards). Miller has been more than serviceable as well, adding 257 yards on just 45 attempts, averaging 5.5 per clip.

In their eight games, TCU has seen each of the five different backs lead the team in rushing; Duggan has done so twice, Barlow twice, and Demercado, Foster, and Evans once each. Both Barlow and Evans have crossed the hundred yard mark once, with Barlow’s 124 yards at Baylor the single game season high amongst the corp.

Each has a different set of skills; as previously mentioned, Demercado shines on third down and in pass protection, but he can also do this:

It’s not just the individual talents that make it work, it’s what they do as a unit. “I feel like when we establish the run, we’re pretty successful,” Demercado said. “If we’re able to establish the running game, it allows us to pass more then we’ll be a more explosive offense. That increases our chances to win much more.” Emeri is right; in each of TCU’s four wins this season, they team has rushed for over 200 yards — in their four losses? They’re averaging just 124 yards per game as a team.

Part of that is game plan, of course, and part of it is opportunity. But as the young running backs get more experience, they get better — and as they get better, so do their stats. “They’re both a big play waiting to happen,” Demercado said of Evans and Miller. “It’s exciting to watch both of them run the ball. They’ve been getting better all year and they’re only going to keep getting better.” In addition to the true freshmen, Barlow has probably been the Frogs most complete player on offense in 2020, and he has just grazed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his talent and impact on the game. Averaging 6.3 yards per carry and having scored four touchdowns — more than any player other than Max Duggan — Barlow is becoming a consistent threat every time he touches the ball, and has the home run ability, which he showcased in Waco. As great as Barlow has been, fans are equally as excited about Zach Evans, a surprising five star signing that practically no one saw coming. Evans started his first game Saturday night, and looks primed to continue to play a bigger and bigger role each week. While he came to Fort Worth to make a name for himself on the gridiron, it was the off the field intangibles that ultimately made it his home, according to Gary Patterson. “He wanted a place that was very stable, where he’d have parameters about how to do things and that people would care about him as a person and not just about Zach Evans the football player. He needed structure in his life and he wanted people that would talk to him and grow him up, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.”

Patterson has been impressed with Evans as a person as a player, keen to mention how well he did in his first semester of college classes and what a great leader he has been. Moreso, though, he’s been impressed with the whole group. “Emari has been unbelievable in his role and Barlow has been unbelievable and he had over 80 yards. All those guys,” he said. Going on, Patterson added “Coach Applewhite just looks and sees who has the best practice all week, because you can kind of have a competition. And you can see what plays in your first 15 you’re going to run and who is the one that does it the best.”

There is, of course, only one football to go around and only so many carries available in four quarters. But Demercado isn’t worried about how the competition will impact a very close group of guys. “We’re a tight-knit group. There’s a lot of us, but we all understand we can make plays so we support each other. Whoever is in running the rock, you pat them on the back when they make a big play. Then when it’s your chance, you go try to make a play.”

For his part, Gary is looking for more ways to get more of them involved. “The future is bright for TCU when it comes to tailback. When we get into spring we’ll have to find a way to get two of them on the field probably because they need to be on the field more.”