At 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, running back James Baker gives the Idaho backfield a nightmarish look.
Baker has had a breakout season of sorts during his senior season and by the look of things, seems to have the most realistic chance of the team’s seniors to land in an NFL camp. Coming off a year that saw him carry the ball just 95 times — then Idaho coach Robb Akey favored the shiftier Ryan Bass in 2012 — Baker has exactly 95 touches eight games into this season.
And even still, the Florida native hasn’t been given enough opportunity to maximize his production this year.
The use of the Vandal tailbacks has been inconsistent, if anything. With four running backs who have carried the ball more than 200 times combined, Baker has accounted for more than half of the group’s carries. Jerrel Brown and Richard Montgomery sit at 34 apiece, while Kris Olugbode checks in with 24.
But it’s Baker who has carried the weight at the position thus far, provided any real consistency to the Vandal running game and given Idaho a “rumble and bumble” runner with the ability to reel off big plays or fight in the trenches.
The question still remains: why hasn’t he been used on a more constant basis?
In a 10-point loss to Northern Illinois, Baker produced career-best numbers. Despite rushing for just 66 yards, he trucked into the end zone twice and caught another pass for a touchdown. Montgomery remains the only other Vandal running back with a touchdown to his name.
Against Washington State, the team’s leading rusher carried just 11 times, while Brown compiled 12 touches for just 26 yards during the 42-0 blowout loss.
It left one NFL scout asking media members the same question Paul Petrino addressed during his Monday press conference following the game.
“Whatever of you runs the hardest during the week of practice, that’s which one of you is going to get the ball the most during the game,” Petrino said.
It’s an idea that has taken the touches away from Idaho’s primary running back — at a time when Baker needs them to build his NFL resume. Not only that, but the physically-imposing Baker is clearly the only Vandal back capable of putting points on the board at this point of the season.
Saturday against Ole Miss, Baker was promising early on, but Olugbode was favored in the latter stages of the game after the No. 1 tailback fumbled. But it came after Baker’s 42-yard reception set the Vandals up inside the Runnin’ Rebel 20-yard line.
Three more Baker carries for 16 yards set up a Taylor Davis’ touchdown, which made it a 10-point game.
The junior college transfer brings the physical components that NFL scouts drool over and his hard-nosed, run downhill style suits him well against undersized defenders.
As the Vandals approach the season’s end, three winnable games loom.
Winnable, assuming Petrino gifts the team’s No. 1 back the touches he deserves.
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org