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Nov. 4, 2010
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – One of the oddities contained in this season’s ACC statistics concerns the running game at Boston College.
The Eagles are last in the league in overall team rushing, averaging 110.6 yards per game. Yet they have the top individual rusher in junior Montel Harris, who is averaging 104.6 yards. Altogether, Harris has gained 837 of BC’s 885 team rushing yards.
Coach Frank Spaziani paused for a moment when asked for an interpretation of that stat.
“It means no one else is doing anything,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t know that. We’ve struggled moving the ball and we certainly have struggled running the ball, but that’s through no fault of Montel’s, I think that’s what it says.”
Harris, a junior who found his way to BC from Jacksonville, Fla., is putting in another stellar season. He gained 900 yards as a freshman and added 1,457 as a sophomore. He needs just 81 yards to surpass the ACC record for total yardage by a junior. That mark of 3,273 yards is held by former North Carolina standout Amos Lawrence.
If Harris maintains his current average for the final four games of the season, he will finish the year with 3,612 yards for his career. That would put him 15th all-time in the ACC and within 990 yards of the record of 4,602, held by Ted Brown of NC State.
Opposing coaches usually cite the Eagles’ size and skill in the offensive line, a perennial strong point, as one reason for Harris’ success. But it hasn’t been that simple this season. Spaziani said there have been some positional changes and injuries that have prevented the kind of continuity needed up front. That has no doubt contributed to the 22 sacks allowed, resulting in 133 lost yards.
No matter – Harris still keeps gaining yards. At 5-10, 200 pounds, he impresses coaches with his toughness, durability, ability to catch the ball and not turn it over.
“The thing I like about him is he’s a tough guy,” said Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, whose team faces BC this Saturday. “Last week against a pretty stout Clemson group I think he had 37 carries (36, actually).
“And so I think he’s got all of it – he’s got the ability, he’s got a good supporting cast with him but maybe one of his better assets is he’s a tough runner and he’s durable, he hangs in there and gets the extra yards. He’s the whole package.”
Harris dented Clemson for 142 yards on those 36 carries and caught a 36-yard touchdown pass to help the Eagles break a five-game losing streak with a 16-10 victory.
“Montel is a tough runner he gets the tough yards, he just kind of grinds it out,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “That’s one of the things about Montel, he breaks a lot of tackles. You have to really get down there low and wrap him up because if you don’t, he keeps those legs moving and the next thing you know it’s seven yards. I think that’s the one thing I would say about him – he gets the tough yards and he’s hard to tackle.”
Like most running backs, Harris gets banged up, but so far he has avoided a major injury. Part of that may be because of his training in karate, where he earned his black belt at the age of 12. The body control, concentration and discipline required of the martial arts have no doubt contributed to his ability to keep his body healthy despite such a heavy workload.
“Knock on wood, he stays low and he doesn’t take very many hard shots and he has great balance, so that has something to do with it,” Spaziani said.
Like anyone in his third year of college football, Harris is a better player now than he was as a freshman. So how does it show on the field?
“Montel is blocking better,” Spaziani said. “We don’t ask him to block too much but he’s done it at a little better pace than he’s done in the past. And he’s catching the ball. He always could catch the ball but he’s doing a better job route-running and doing those things.”
Put it all together and you have the best back in the ACC, strange stats or not.
AROUND THE ACC IN FOOTBALL
This week’s marquee game comes tonight in Blacksburg, Va., when the 20th-ranked Hokies host Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said his players are well aware that a loss would eliminate them from any chance to make the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 4. And the defense has a huge task in trying to contain Virginia Tech quarterback Trod Taylor.
“I mean, he's, without a doubt right now … the premier player in the league, by a mile,” Johnson said. “He keeps so many plays alive and he can beat you so many different ways. Not only is he throwing the ball so much better but he can kill you running the ball and keeping things alive.
“We haven't been able to tackle him in the two years I've been here. I'm not sure we could get him down if we had him in a phone booth. He runs around and extends plays and creates a lot of havoc.”
MORE PRAISE FOR TAYLOR: Count Duke coach David Cutcliffe among Taylor’s admirers. Cutcliffe said Taylor has become more than just a scrambler.
“He's become a very efficient drop-back pass quarterback,” Cutcliffe said.
“He reads the field well. He uses all areas of the field. His eyes stay downfield. He's not a real tall guy, but he sees the field and he has great ability to keep his vision in the right places and great timing throwing the football.
“What he's done to become a great player, in my opinion, is his accuracy level has increased, goodness, two, threefold from what it was when he was a young player. He is really throwing the ball accurately.”
DEFENSE MATURING: Virginia Tech’s defense, which had a shaky start to the season, seems to be hitting its stride, although it will have its work cut out against Georgia Tech’s option attack.
“I think it's (that) some young guys getting experience and some other guys doing some things more consistently,” said coach Frank Beamer. “We've still got some guys that are playing in their first year, even though they played quite a few games now. But they haven't played an offense like this, haven't seen them come at them as fast as this one comes at you.”
NC STATE RUNNERS: Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said one area that has particularly pleased him is the rushing game, thanks to a pair of freshmen.
“I think the growth of Mustafa Greene (and) Dean Haynes, those two kids never having been in a college football game,” O’Brien said. “(We would have been ecstatic) coming into the year if we could have gotten 150 yards a game rushing the ball. Right now we're about 143. I think they have a lot to do with it.”
Greene is a true freshman from Irmo, S.C., who has gained 495 yards and has scored four touchdowns. Haynes is a redshirt freshman from Tunnel Hill, Ga., who has piled up 312 yards and three scores. They have combined for 33 receptions, including a TD catch by Haynes.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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