Steven Anderson was happy to see his friend Deneric Prince back in the lineup for the first time this season last week against Cincinnati.
Prince, who ranked third on the Golden Hurricane with 524 rushing yards last season, hadn’t played this season, not even appearing on the team roster, with no explanation provided for his absence.
But there he was, suddenly in the TU backfield during its second possession last week, gaining 29 yards on six rushes in that one drive, and it was almost like he never left. Overall, Prince gained a team-high 71 yards on 18 carries, scoring two touchdowns, in Tulsa’s 31-21 loss to the Bearcats.
“It was good to have Deneric back; obviously I thought he had an impact on the game, he did some really nice things,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “First game back, so he got to knock a little bit of rust off, but it was obviously good to have him back and I think his presence is going to help us tremendously throughout the year, as long as we continue to keep growing.”
Anderson, who was fourth on the squad last year with 219 yards along with two touchdowns in limited action, had taken over as the main running back during the first four games of this season, gaining 206 yards and four touchdowns on 52 rushes over the first four contests. But with Prince back, Anderson ran for 23 yards on just eight carries against Cincinnati.
Even though Prince’s presence in the lineup meant that Anderson’s deployment dropped significantly, Anderson is still happy to have his senior teammate on the field.
“It’s great to have him back,” Anderson said. “He’s a very big, physical back and he can create a lot of explosive plays, so any time you can add that type of talent back to the running back room, it’s great to have that.”
Montgomery stressed that all the running backs will still have a role with Prince added to the group, although last week Bill Jackson, who had led the team in rushing yards in each of the two previous games, got only two carries for seven yards and Jordan Ford, who was third on the squad in rushing yards with 135, didn’t see the field at all. How the rotation falls this Saturday against Navy remains to be seen.
“I think we’ll always be a running back by committee and we’re going to play the hot hand as that plays itself out,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to continue to keep focusing on our run game and getting better there. I thought we’ve made some strides in our run game. Obviously, last week it wasn’t at the place that we really wanted it to be, but the week before that, we all thought we had it fixed.”
After rushing for 262 yards in the loss at Ole Miss the previous week, the ground attack’s numbers didn’t look very good against Cincinnati, as TU (2-3, 0-1 AAC) officially gained just 36 yards on 45 rushes, but that number is misleading, because it includes 11 quarterback sacks that accounted for negative 76 yards. Counting just the intended rushes, Tulsa really earned 112 yards on 34 carries, which averages out to 3.3 yards per rush — which still isn’t great, but not nearly as bad as the stats make it look.
“As a running back group, I feel like we’ve progressed each week,” Anderson said. “We have five new O-linemen this year, they’re getting the hang of it; I feel like they’re doing pretty well. And then we have Deneric back, and people have seen what he’s been able to do the last couple of years, so it’s just been a great help for him to be back with us. We’ve always been running back by committee, and we’ve got a lot of other great running backs in there, too, so it’s been a great addition for us.”
As for his weight, which has been listed on TU’s roster as being 269 pounds, making him the second-heaviest running back in the nation, Anderson clarified that he actually tips the scales at around 255 and usually stays in that range.
“Right now, I’m like 255,” Anderson said at Tuesday’s press conference. “I don’t know where that number came from.”