There are two ways college football teams find success in their run games against high-power defenses. One is with size; simply bulldozing past the first line of defense for the hard-pressed yards.
The other is with speed; turning on the jets in the open field and outrunning everyone to the end zone. For Texas A&Mrunning back Devon Achan is the latter of the two in terms of being successful in space. He also might be the Aggies’ best option of winning the Heisman in 2023.
“He’s going to be an extremely productive guy in what he does and where he goes,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said on Achane Wednesday at the Houston Touchdown Club event. “The thing about him, he’s very natural as a player, but he’s a highly, highly competitive guy and is very intelligent.
“You can do a lot of things with him.”
Achane’s biggest setback in becoming the focal point of A&M’s offense has little to do with his skills as a player. It mostly is based on the level of competition in the Aggies’ backfield.
Coming out of Fort Bend Marshall in Houston, Achane has been the complement to Isaiah Spiller in terms of reps. Spiller, a native of Spring, finished with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and served as the Aggies’ top rusher since his arrival in 2019.
Fisher also showed his cards in terms of reps between the two. Last season, Spiller will handle every carry on the two opening drives. On the third drive, it was the “Achane approach” followed by a mix of carries between the two from here on out.
In years past, players who served as rotational pieces often were afterthoughts at the start of the season in terms of breaking out. The way Achane was utilized in an aggressive run game during the 2021 campaign has given him a slight edge in the race for early Heisman odds.
“You used to have to hype guys before the season, now all you have to do is watch,” Fisher said of the Heisman hype earlier this offseason. “Back then you had to present a guy, because guys in other parts of the country never saw him play. Now, everybody knows everybody, and what Achane needs to do is just go play well.”
Perhaps those who have fallen off the “Devon Dash” hype express weren’t paying attention to Achane’s limitations on the practice field this spring. The 5-9, 185-pound runner was limited in reps due to his prior commitment to him as part of the Aggies’ track team.
Currently, Achane is training to win at nationals in the 200 meters. He’ll have a case to take home the gold as his 20.2speed was a record-setter for the Aggies this past spring.
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That speed transitions with pads on during Saturdays in the fall. Achane consistently found ways to whip past defenders at the line of scrimmage and in the open field for massive gains as a secondary option. His average of seven yards per carry was the highest among all SEC runners last season.
Achane also finished with just under 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns off 130 carries — 49 fewer than Spiller.
A&M hasn’t had a Heisman contender since 2012 when Johnny Manziel arrived on campus. At running back, Leeland McElroy might have been the closest to a Heisman hype candidate in terms of speed and agility. Much like Achane, McElroy wasn’t a starter until his third season at the helm.
Right out the gate, McElroy made the case of being more than just a running back with return ability. Against LSU, he tallied 229 rushing yards and 359 all-purpose yards, shattering a Southwest Conference record.
He’d be limited to 10 games after suffering an ankle injury midseason, forcing him to miss starts against two conference opponents and taking him out of the race of becoming the Aggies’ second Heisman winner behind John David Crow in 1957.
Achane now has the chance to be a focal point of the Aggies’ offense. He also offers value in the passing attack for whichever one of the three gunslingers wins the title of QB1, having averaged 10.9 yards per catch out of the backfield.
It’s still early and Achane has much to provide as the lead back for the Aggies, but the tools are the for a hot start. So is the belief from Fisher, who seems ready to hand the keys over to him as the team’s next top runner.
The dominoes are set in motion for Achane to be the x-factor of A&M’s potent offense. Will the production though match the hype?
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