There are few sports otherthan football that apply the “next man up” philosophy. Since injuries are such a common part of the game, football allows each team to have bigger rosters to make sure that they have ample depth.
That is why when senior running back Patrick Taylor Jr. went down with an ankle injury following Memphis’ season opener against Ole Miss, the Tigers had to find someone to step up and Kenneth Gainwell did that and more.
In the eight games that took place during Taylor’s absence, Gainwell took over the starting role and had 1,403 yards from scrimmage and 15 combined touchdowns. What makes his play even more remarkable is that he is doing all of this as a redshirt freshman.
When a player is as hot as that, you cannot just bench them because they are too important to the team’s offensive attack.
When Taylor was announced to be returning in the Tigers November 16 match up against the Houston Cougars, it was met with little fanfare. That is not because he was not still a good player, it is just that there had been another player who had been thriving in the spotlight.
Taylor had strung together an impressive Memphis career in his own right and prior to his injury, had been expected to do big things.
Last season despite being a part of a backfield that also had NFL draft picks, Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard, Taylor still rushed for 1,122 yards 16 touchdowns. His best of his first three seasons that has seen him rush for 2,534 yards. That put him as the school’s fourth all-time leading rusher.
He showed his flashes of greatness against Ole Miss as he rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown. He also had four catches for 25 yards.
In his return, Taylor had a modest contribution of 14 yards on five carries, serving as a change of pace back for Gainwell.
In Saturday’s game against the Bulls, Taylor saw an uptick in touches and made the most of them.
He finished with 17 rushes for 95 rushing yard and three rushing touchdowns in the Tigers’ 49-10 10th conference win. He also had one reception for 20 receiving yards.
When he scored his first touchdown in the first quarter, he was met by a number of teammates who congratulated and celebrated with him for being able to return the field.
Now, I am not saying that Taylor should instantly jump back into the starting role, but his running style is a great compliment to Gainwell’s shifty running style.
Taylor is a 6’3, 227-pound bruiser whose best asset is his ability to bulldoze defenders and fight for yards in short yardage situations.
As the season comes to the close, it will be hard for defenses to cope with two great running backs taking up their energy.
Barring any unforeseen injuries, these two backs could form the best rushing duo in the AAC and help the team run their way to an AAC crown.
Their final test will be Cincinnati in Memphis, a game that will be their season finale as well as their Senior Night.
Do not be shocked if you see Taylor have a big opportunity to show out in what could be his final game in front of the Memphis home crowd.
Kickoff against the Bearcats is set for 2:30 p.m Friday.