Running game a hidden weapon for Cincinnati

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

For all of Cincinnati's offensive prowess under Brian Kelly, the vast majority of the production has come in the passing game. Big-time rushing performances are rarely seen.

When Jacob Ramsey ran for 103 yards on Saturday at Miami (Ohio), he became just the second back in the Kelly era at Cincinnati to surpass the century mark. The other came in Kelly's first full season, when Butler Benton had 101 yards against Southeast Missouri State.

A running back in Kelly's system has to be ready to pass block, run routes and then take advantage of his limited opportunities to carry the ball. Ramsey, for example, got his 103 yards on just 12 carries.

"We never really know how it might play out during the game," Ramsey said. "So we just have to be ready when our numbers are called."

Though the statistics aren't eye-popping, this might be the best rushing attack Cincinnati has had under Kelly. Ramsey, a steady senior, is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, best among all Big East backs with at least 10 carries. Sophomore Isaiah Pead has added an electricity to the backfield with his speed and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

"We don't look at them as a one or a two," Kelly said. "We look at them as a 1a and 1b."

While the Bearcats aren't going to line up in an I-formation and power the ball down the field, it's not as if Kelly is opposed to the running game.

"It's one of the products of the spread offense," he said. "If you're going to overcommit or double out and put fair numbers in the box, we're going to run the football."

Miami did that on Saturday, double-teaming star receiver Mardy Gilyard as much as possible. There surely will be other teams this season who load up against the passing game and force the Bearcats to beat them on the ground.

Running the ball might be a way for Cincinnati to keep the ball longer. The offense had just 19:09 of possession time at Miami, a week after having the ball for just over 16 minutes against Fresno State.

"I guess one way [to improve that] would be to slow down our scoring drives," Kelly said. "But I'd rather just score quickly."

For now, it looks like Cincinnati's running backs will remain in the shadows, ready to contribute during their rare chances.

"It's definitely something that's been overlooked, but we don't mind being overlooked," Ramsey said. "When we come into the game, most of the time we're productive. So if teams are not prepared to stop the run, it makes things even better for us."