UNC tailback Ryan Houston's goal for Saturday’s game against Miami is simple:
“I don’t want to mess up,” he said. “I don’t want it to be the running backs’ fault, or us being the reason we’re not picking up yards, because of the running game. I don’t want to see a drop-off in the running game. I just want to keep it up.”
Houston, who will receive the bulk of carries instead of injured leading rusher Shaun Draughn, is one of several backups who will be relied upon heavily this weekend in the ACC. At Maryland, backup quarterback Jamarr Robinson will play at the expense of injured starter Chris Turner, and Florida State rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel will be making his first career start in place of Christian Ponder. Both Draughn and Ponder suffered season-ending injuries last week, and Turner is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech with a knee injury.
While the Terps have begun to shift their focus to the future, both Florida State and North Carolina are still playing for bowl eligibility. They’ll need some help, though, from Houston and Manuel.
Houston will face the No. 4 rushing defense in the ACC in Miami, which is holding opponents to 122.9 rushing yards per game. UNC coach Butch Davis said it will be tough to replace Draughn, but the staff has since moved Anthony Elzy to tailback to help with depth.
“It’s certainly not an enviable task,” Davis said. “Shaun, obviously, throughout the course of the middle part of the season has really done a nice job. It gave us a good duo of having two guys that could stay fresh in the ball game. It’ll be a challenge to try to find someone who can come in and deliver, not only the playing time, but to offset Ryan’s production and contribution to the game. Like any of the other unfortunate things that have happened to us as far as injuries, it’s something that’s happened and we’re going to have to deal with it and we’re going to have to find something to compensate for it.”
Houston is an experienced, proven back who had been used mostly in short-yardage situations, but the rookie quarterbacks are untested. Both Robinson and Manuel played sparingly last week when their starters went down, but it will be up to the offensive coordinators at each school to help them manage the game without overwhelming them.
"[Jamarr's] always had a little bit different package because he's more mobile,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “He's got to be able to throw the ball as well as run. … We don't have any less plans to throw it with Jamarr than we would with Chris.”
FSU coach Bobby Bowden said Manuel looked “pretty good” taking the reps with the first-team offense this week, but a different type of improvement is needed in game situations.
“[Fisher] will have to feed him what he can handle,” Bowden said. “I am sure he isn't going to be able to feed him the whole package like he could with Ponder, but he will feed him as much as he can handle and go from there, and the other quarterback the same thing.”
Bowden said Manuel “hasn’t been under fire” yet, and that he “doesn’t have it down as good as Ponder yet.” That’s to be expected, though, considering Manuel’s lack of experience. That will start to change on Saturday, though, against Wake Forest.