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May 1, 2007
Texas A&M offense relies on the change-up
A pitching prospect in his youth, Dennis Franchione quickly learned the value of an effective change-up.
Work inside and out. Keep your opponent off balance. Mix speeds to make them miss.
As Texas A&M's football coach, Franchione has used the same approach with running backs Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson. The Aggies have one of the nation's most productive rushing duos. The pair proved instrumental in leading the Aggies to an impressive 9-4 campaign in 2006.
"It's been a pretty healthy thunder-and-lightning tandem with those two," Franchione said. "It's kind of like a fastball, change-of-pace type complement with those two."
Though Goodson is coming off a knee injury suffered in the Holiday Bowl loss to California and Lane endured a viral infection that forced him to lose 18 pounds this spring, they could become the first A&M running backs to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Their success may also determine whether the Aggies are legitimate Big 12 championship contenders in 2007.
"I think we have everything it takes to be productive and good," Goodson said. "The way spring went, I think we're going to be real good. I expect big things."
Much of that optimism is based on what Goodson and Lane accomplished last season, when A&M ranked eighth nationally in rushing.
Lane rushed for 725 yards and scored 19 touchdowns, although he carried the ball fewer than 15 times in 10 games. Goodson never had more than 15 carries, and didn't get that many until the seventh game of last season. He still rushed for 847 yards while averaging 6.7 yards per attempt.
Lane or Goodson could accumulate yardage totals that might earn All-American recognition if they were given sufficient carries. Neither seems to care that they probably won't.
"You've got to look at it this way … Mike is as good as I am," said Lane, who has rushed for 1,320 yards in his career. "We're both multi-talented. I'm sure he wants more carries, but other people want carries, too. You just do what it takes to win the game."
Goodson's productivity may demand that he get more carries, but he won't make any demands.
"When I first got here I was shaky about splitting carries because I might not get as many yards," he said. "But the system complements both of us. Jorvorskie comes in and just pounds and bruises people up by the time I get in there. Then I come in and run right by them."
Having two productive running backs on one team isn't a new concept. The NCAA lists 27 running back tandems to rush for 1,000 yards each. Just last season nine teams had two running backs rush for 700 yards apiece.
But no two are more polar opposites in their running styles.
"We've certainly had combinations of two or three good running backs before," said Franchione, who will enter his fifth at A&M. "We had LaDainian Tomlinson and Basil Mitchell at TCU and Shad Williams, Santonio Beard and Ahmaad Galloway at Alabama. We've had years with more than one back, but probably not as different and these."
Lane, who fluctuates between 260 and 280 pounds, is a bulldozer who primarily plows between the tackles. He's surprisingly nimble for his size, and can sidestep tackles and make plays on the edge.
Goodson knows how difficult it is to tackle. Goodson also played cornerback in high school and faced Lane in the Texas state playoffs.
"I remember I kept hearing they had the big running back," Goodson said. "I was thinking this guy can't be that big. Then, he came out for warm-ups and, wow, he was huge. But he's also fast and quick and I thought, 'I've got to try to tackle this guy?' I got him, though. I went low."
Most defenders bracing for a big collision often try the same method, which Goodson said eventually works to his benefit.
"Jorvorskie will go in the first two series and the defense gets the mind-set that they've got to hit the big guy," he said. "Jorvorskie keeps coming downhill, and then coach throws me in and it's like, 'Wow.'
Goodson, who has 4.4 speed, is a breakaway threat who's especially dangerous on option pitches.
"Mike can juke people more than I can," Lane said. "He makes more guys miss than I do."
Each figures to have ample opportunity to get into the open field next season. The A&M offensive line should be the best since Franchione arrived in College Station. Four starters return and a fifth probable starter, guard Chris Yoder, started at center a couple years ago.
However, that doesn't mean the Aggies will be strictly ground-oriented.
A&M's rushing success last season overshadowed the fact that quarterback Stephen McGee passed for 2,295 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Aggies went into their regular season finale – a 12-7 victory over arch rival Texas – as the only team in the nation averaging more than 200 yards rushing and passing.
Even the running backs acknowledge the need for an improved passing game. A&M faces five opponents which ranked in the top 40 in run defense last season, including No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Miami and No. 16 Oklahoma.
"We're going to have to throw the ball more," Lane said. "We can't run all the time. We've got to mix it up. But they can't take away our running game."
No opponent really did last season. A&M rushed for at least 146 yards in every game and exceeded 200 yards seven times.
Hoping to become even more proficient, the Aggies spent part of the spring workouts incorporating more two-back sets into their offense to get Lane and Goodson on the field at the same time.
That should make stopping them even more difficult.
After all, hitting a pitch – or stopping a running back who takes a pitch – is harder when it's uncertain what's coming.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.