From now until the start of Idaho State’s spring football practices March 26, we will preview the top storylines to follow as the Bengals prepare for the 2019 season. This is the final installment.
What will ISU's backfield look like?
As surely as Idaho State’s offense piled up yards and scored points last season, the Bengals’ backfield carried the load.
The two-headed running back tandem of James Madison and Ty Flanagan combined to gain 1,777 rushing yards and teamed to score 19 touchdowns last season – when the Bengals rushed for 2,244 yards as a unit, the third-most in a season in program history.
The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Madison and the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Flanagan both had huge outings, and you never quite knew who’s day it was going to be. They were, statistically, the Bengals’ best running back duo since Xavier Finney and Daniel McSurdy amassed 2,276 yards and 22 scores in 2014.
But Madison’s ISU career is over after five seasons. Flanagan enters his final spring session with nothing but youth behind him on the running back depth chart.
So will Flanagan be a one-man machine in ISU’s backfield this season? Or will one of the Bengals’ young backs work his way into a complementary role?
ISU ran the ball 477 times last season — compared to 345 pass attempts — and 41.5 percent of the team’s yardage came on the ground. It’s hard to imagine ISU throwing the ball as much as it did a season ago, given the uncertainty surrounding the Bengals’ quarterbacks and a new signal-caller behind center.
But the other running backs on ISU’s spring roster are Tyray Collins, Nehemiah McFarlin and Soujah Gasu. McFarlin rushed 29 times for 156 yards and one touchdown as a redshirt freshman in 2017. None of the three logged a carry last season.
Gasu has been touted as the next great ISU running back. He played sparingly last year as a freshman, appearing in the final four games of the season and returning two kickoffs for 25 yards against Montana State. McFarlin was held out of fall camp and didn’t appear in a game in 2018. Neither did Collins, who enters 2019 as a redshirt freshman.
There’s always senior wide receiver Michael Dean, the dual-sport star who came to ISU as a running back in 2016. He has 54 career rushing attempts for 427 yards and five touchdowns, but hasn’t registered more than 15 carries in a season since he was a freshman. Plus, his value as a pass-catcher may outweigh the risks of the additional hits he would take as a ball-carrier.
ISU’s powerful offense started on the ground in 2018. It’s safe to say a repeat performance hinges on the backfield again.
SPRING PRACTICES OPEN TO PUBLIC
Idaho State’s spring football practices begin March 26, at the ICCU Practice Field outside Holt Arena on ISU’s campus. All practices are open to the public, free to attend and are scheduled to take place on the ICCU Practice Field. The final practice is ISU’s annual Kragthorpe Classic spring game April 20 at 11 a.m.
Players and coaches will be made available to media following practice on March 26, April 2, April 6, April 9, April 13 and April 20. Capturing photo and video is permitted only during those practices.
ISU SPRING PRACTICE SCHEDULE
March 26, 4 p.m.
March 28, 4 p.m.
March 30, 11 a.m.
April 2, 4 p.m.
April 4, 4 p.m.
April 5, 4:30 p.m.
April 6, 11 a.m. (scrimmage)
April 9, 4 p.m.
April 11, 4 p.m.
April 12, 4 p.m.
April 13, 11 a.m. (scrimmage)
April 16, 4 p.m.
April 18, 4 p.m.
April 19, 4 p.m.
April 20, 11 a.m. (spring game)