Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The emergence of Vincent Smith

Though Delaware State proved to be little competition, one of the big storylines that came out of the weekend was the emergence of Vincent Smith as potent runner. Brian at MGoBlog touched on it yesterday:

Pardon the blasphemy, but you know who Vincent Smith reminds me of? Mike Hart. Same lack of killer deep speed that prevents the guy in question from being an elite prospect—Noel Devine would have housed two or three of Smith's carries. On the other hand, Smith appears to have Hart's ability to juke guys out of their shorts and hit zone creases with authority, and when it comes time to get tackle Smith delivers a blow impressively for a member of the lollipop guild. He's probably even shiftier than Hart, not quite as liable to drag a pile but set to become an excellent player over the next few years. I still think Mike Shaw is the odds-on favorite to start next year because he has the explosion to take it the distance and the moves to break more than his share, but in this offense the #2 back is almost a starter and Smith should be productive.

For the record, I cosign just about everything here. I had planned on mentioning this, without the Hart comparison, but Brian beat me to it.

The first thing I really noticed from the game was Smith's patience. It's an old adage and one that you hear about a lot with traditional Big Ten rushing attacks--it was rammed down your throat by the ESPN commentators during the Iowa/Michigan game. Cliche aside, you could see Smith waiting for the field to open up before he hit the holes. It may have looked that way because of how easily Michigan moved the Delaware State defensive front, but Smith just hovered behind his linemen before scooting into the seams they created. It will be interesting to see Smith play against more stout defenses. I have been relatively unimpressed with him thus far through the season (sparing carries noted), but this game was really an eye opener. Watch as he runs carefully horizontally until his gap opens up. He looks none too worried to get into that hole; this is the kind of play that can't really be taught. It's more instinctual.

The other thing that really stuck out to me was his lack of top-end speed. For some reason--and maybe it was the mass of YouTube clips I had watched of his scurrying past defenders in high school--I thought Smith was a burner. But the clip below shows that he's going to have trouble beating any legit DB out in a foot race. Here (and watch the patience and the cutback), Smith makes a great move to get into the open field and has nothing but blockers and the end zone in front of him, but is quickly wrapped up by a defender giving chase. I remember remarking to myself when he broke open, "There's no way anyone's touching him. Touchdown."

So that's a little disappointing. But nonetheless, Smith proved himself to be a heck of a running back and will definitely be one of the prominent rushers next year, likely behind Michael Shaw who looked monstrous on Saturday. If Smith can up his top-end speed in the offseason, he'll give Shaw a run for the starting job, though. Don't be surprised to see him get a few more meaningful snaps this year, however.


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