While running backs Brandon Ross and Wes Brown were locked in a battle for the starting job during preseason camp in August, the Maryland coaching staff talked about how the Terps would need production out of both this season, no matter who started.
Ross, though, won the job out of camp and received the majority of the carries through the first seven games of the season. But over the past few weeks, interim coach Mike Locksley has worked Brown into the game plan more, while Ross has made mistakes that have opened the door for Brown to take a larger role in the offense. Brown will make his first start since the regular-season finale against Rutgers last season on Saturday at Michigan State.
Over the past two weeks, Brown has 18 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown, while Ross has carried seven times for 35 yards. In Saturday's 31-24 loss to Wisconsin, Brown had 10 carries, while Ross carried a season-low two times.
"Wes was part of the game plan," Locksley said. "Wes has really picked it up with his execution, his effort, his practice habits. The last few weeks he's played a few more reps."
Ross has started all nine games this season and is still Maryland's leading rusher this season with 97 rushes for 524 yards and three touchdowns, while Brown is third behind quarterback Perry Hills with 59 rushes for 265 yards and three scores.
In Maryland's loss at Iowa, Ross fumbled on the Terps' opening drive, quashing a promising possession in Hawkeyes territory. Locksley said Brown played 30 snaps to Ross' 22 in that game. On Saturday, Locksley said Ross missed two blocks in pass protection that led to "very costly" sacks because Hills had receivers open downfield. Ross' first carry came on the second play of the game, and his second came on a possession near the midway mark of the second quarter.
So Brown received the majority of the carries down the stretch. His 10 rushes were the most since he rushed 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown against Richmond in the season opener. His 18 carries in two games are the most since he had 22 carries in the first two games of the season against Richmond and Bowling Green.
Freshman Ty Johnson had three carries for 19 yards against Wisconsin, the most he's had in a game since he had four for 20 yards against West Virginia on Sept. 26.
In modern college football, workhorse running backs are few and far between. Rushers such as Alabama's Derrick Henry, LSU's Leonard Fournette and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott are exceptions at a position that takes a physical toll on a player. So even though Ross won the starting job out of camp, Brown and Johnson both got their shot at times this season.
And while Brown's role has increased in recent weeks and he earned the start Saturday, Locksley said that both Brown and Ross have to be playing well in order for the Maryland running game to be hitting on all cylinders.
"Both those guys are available to us," Locksley said. "Both guys are capable. Today, Brandon made a few mistakes, and Wes got the opportunity to go out. Wes did things the way we wanted them done. We'll get Brandon corrected. He'll be back out there next weekend. We'll need both those guys to play well for us."