Though the Elon University football team has struggled to score points offensively, the Phoenix has been able to move the ball well on the ground.
Things were no different on Saturday, as Elon ran for 156 yards on 39 carries, averaging exactly four yards per rushing play in its 35-7 loss to the sixth-ranked University of Richmond. It’s a development that has pleased head coach Rich Skrosky and requires a lot of credit to be shared.
“That was one of the positives coming out [of the game],” Skrosky said. “I thought our front did a pretty good job all day. We tried to stay with the run game to keep the game intact, but it’s tough when you’re down 21-0.
“Certainly, [sophomore running back] Malcolm [Summers] and [freshman running back] De’Sean [McNair] are playing well. I think both of those guys are playing well and were blocking well. Right now, I’m pretty pleased about where it’s at.”
Elon failed to average three yards per rush during Skrosky’s first two years as head coach, picking up 2.8 yards per rush in 2014 and just 2.5 yards per rush in 2015. Last season’s game average of 73.5 rushing yards was the third-worst output in the country out of 123 Football Championship Subdivision teams.
Through seven games this season, the Phoenix has only moved up 20 spots to 101st in the FCS and has added nearly 40 yards per game to get an average of 114. The Phoenix is also at 3.7 yards per rush this year, increasing its total from last year by more than a yard so far.
The leading ground gainer has been Summers, who has 80 carries for 338 yards on the season. But McNair has shown off during the time he’s had, gaining 240 yards on 75 carries. Skrosky says his improvement has been noticeable recently and was evident on the field Saturday, when McNair led the team with 78 yards on 18 carries and scored Elon’s only touchdown on a rushing play early in the fourth.
“De’Sean and the backs in general are doing well, as well as the guys up front,” Skrosky said. “You feel better, not only about the line, but also about the depth — you aren’t seeing a bunch of drop-off. The run game is something I’m excited and optimistic about. De’Sean specifically, I think he’s seeing things better than what he was three or four weeks ago.”
But Elon still struggled offensively, which Skrosky attributes to its inability to move the ball in the air. Sophomore quarterback Daniel Thompson only completed 11 of 25 passes for 92 yards, missing throws that Skrosky said can’t be missed.
“We missed some easy throws, and it started right at the start of the game,” Skrosky said. “Against a team like Richmond, they know what they are on defense, and they know what they’re stopping. They’re OK giving you isolations, and if you don’t hit them on a consistent basis, it’s going to be hard to run the ball.”
But Elon has still been able to do so this year, gaining a total of 798 yards on the ground through seven games. Compared to last year’s full-season total of 808 yards in 11 games, it’s clear to see the improvement.
And considering Summers is a sophomore, McNair is a freshman and four of the five starters on the offensive line have at least one year of eligibility remaining, it bodes well for the next few weeks and the next few seasons of Elon football.