We're a third of the way through the season and we're 3-1, with a field goal away from being 4-0. This team looks to be pretty good, but people are still upset and still have questions about our running game. Everyone expected Ashton Shumpert to step in and have immediate success. And unfortunately, against tougher competition, he can't seem to find lanes to run through. That may not be entirely his fault, but it is something that this team is having to deal with.
So, where do we go from here? I don't think it's wise to abandon him. Let's keep him involved in our game plan. But we might have to find different ways to use him. We've seen him have success as a receiver out of the backfield and he is great when it comes to picking up blocks and giving Dak extra time to get the ball downfield. So, here's some ideas about what to do with him.
1). Move him to reciever
So far on the year, out of the backfield, Ashton Shumpert has 10 receptions for 87 yards with a long of 18 yards. When he's able to get into the open field, he is hard to bring down. He may not have a touchdown yet, but if we moved him to receiver, he could provide another potential deep threat at 6'2" and 218 pounds. That's good size for a receiver, and it would only increase the depth that we have at our best position. And, it would be good to see his physicality and strength used against smaller corners and safeties.
Shumpert could cause a mismatch with his size and he could be physical enough to move defensive backs around once he has the ball. Just because he's struggled against bigger linebackers and defensive linemen doesn't mean he can't out muscle smaller defenders. Plus, we've seen Shump show the potential to go out and grab just about any pass Dak throws his way. If he can run the routes as a receiver, he could provide a reliable outside threat.
2). Move him to H-Back
The H-Back is an interesting position. It is seemingly a hybrid of a tight end, a receiver, and a fullback, depending on who you ask. Last year, we had Malcolm Johnson as our fullback/tight end cross and we saw plenty of success from Malcolm, who is now playing for the Cleveland Browns. And if we were to look at another football team in Ohio, we can see Braxton Miller (formerly a Heisman contending quarterback) play H-Back with the best of them. As previously mentioned, Shumpert is very physical. He provides quality blocking as well as a receiving threat. This would be a viable option for him. It's a position that former MSU running back Nick Griffin played a few times in a few games in his career with a good amount of success.
If MSU were to try to generate more of a running game, and adopted the diamond formation that we saw in 2013 and 2014, using Shump as the H-Back/fullback would give him a chance to shine. It would focus on his strengths as a receiving threat and as a blocker. It could also lead to some opportunities for him to run the ball out of option plays. Another formation where this would be a solid option would be a two back shotgun set. With both Brandon Holloway and Shumpert in the backfield with Dak, MSU could have a variety of options when it comes to moving the ball on the ground and finding ways to get Shumpert in position for success.
3). Keep him at running back
And finally, it might be best to simply keep him at running back. It's still early in the season. He could turn this year around. As of right now, he's carried the ball 32 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. This slump that he is in could be fixed with different formations or simply if he can adjust his vision and hit some open holes. There's no question about his talent and potential as a running back. He's built to be the prototypical SEC running back with as big as he is.
And even if he doesn't run the ball 20 times a game as a running back, he's shown excellent ability to clear out as a check down for Dak and our passing game. It would be feasible to continue the offense with him as it is and see it develop into a more successful version of what it is as the season wears on. He has 10 receptions through 4 games, with 5 receptions and 60 of his 87 total yards coming in SEC play. In SEC play, he's averaging 12 yards per reception. That's a successful option right there. No other running back has shown the promise that Shump has when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield.
The bottom line is Shumpert is incredibly talented. He's a big, physical force who can muscle through opponents as necessary while also provide the ability to go after passes and bring them down. We can't abandon his potential because of how great he could be for this team. He's hit a rough spot right now with running the ball. The whole team has, including Dak. Whether that's due to the offensive line being better at pass protection than run protection, or if it's caused by a lack of vision when it comes to finding running lanes, the cause doesn't really matter. Ashton still has time to turn his season around and become the threat we all hoped for when it comes to running the ball.
But right now, the offense looks like it's set on passing. And we can't pass up on the chance to continue to use Shumpert as a receiving threat. Whether that's as a running back out of the back field, an H-Back providing blocks and going out for receptions, or if he transitions into a pure receiver, we need to have Shump on the field. Mullen will find a way to use this talented but struggling running back in some capacity. And expect to see some improvement as the season carries on.