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Elijah Hood will be just fine

The running back hasn’t quite lived up to last year’s standards, but there’s no need to worry

Cincinnati v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Last year, Elijah Hood burst on to the national scene, rushing for 1463 yards and 17 touchdowns at a healthy 6.7 yard per carry clip. Tar Heel fans knew he was good, but he surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. He was primed, in the opinions of many, to pick up where he left of and establish his place as one of the best college running backs in the country. However, by those standards, his first four games have been disappointing: 4 touchdowns through 4 games and a 5.4 yard per carry average. His last game, against Pittsburgh, was especially poor from a statistical perspective; he was handed the ball 11 times but was only able to gain 25 yards and did not score. Meanwhile, his backfield teammate, T.J. Logan, has flashed more than he ever had previously in his career, averaging 7.0 yards per carry, having the same amount of touchdowns with half the carries, and adding some explosive plays in the passing game to boot. Tar Heel fans around the Internet have been wondering about Hood’s regression, and the point has to be made: Elijah Hood is Just. Fine. In case you need convincing:

  • Hood and the coaching staff are adjusting to a new offensive line unit.

Last year, the offensive line was anchored by Landon Turner, who is now on a 53-man roster in the NFL. Another veteran offensive lineman, John Ferranto, was lost for the season to injury, forcing the coaches to shuffle positions and put inexperienced players in the starting offensive line. Hood is a physical, between-the-tackles runner, and as such, depends on his offensive line to open the initial holes for him and then allow him to create beyond them. Against Illinois and Pittsburgh, for most of the games, these holes were simply not there. Logan, a faster runner more suited to the open field, has often produced outside the tackles, where UNC’s receivers often physically dominate the defensive backs and give Logan room to run. Against James Madison, Hood actually got some of the same outside-the-tackles looks that Logan has, and had success, including both of his touchdown runs. Hood could succeed just as well as Logan could with the same schemes, but the staff is continuing to make his traditional style work with a line that is still gelling with each other and with Hood.

  • Elite running backs across the country are struggling to start the season.

Before the season, the best college running backs in the country, not including Hood, were generally considered to be, in no particular order, Leonard Fournette (LSU), Nick Chubb (UGA), Dalvin Cook (FSU), Royce Freeman (ORE), Jalen Hurd (TEN), Samaje Perine (OKLA), Christian McCaffrey (STAN), and maybe Wayne Gallman (CLEM).

These running backs have averaged, in order: 5.8, 5.1, 6.3, 8.8, 4.0, 4.5, 5.5, and 4.1 YPC so far this season. These are all good numbers, but not what’s expected from the best of the best. With the exception of Freeman, the best running backs in the country are almost all well below their 2015 averages. These guys have targets on their backs. Defenses are keying in on stopping them, and offensive staffs have not quite yet figured out to respond.

  • Hood is still doing his part to help the team win.

5.4 yards per carry is still a very respectable clip, Hood has been excellent in pass protection (go back and re-watch him on the last drive against Pittsburgh), and, in keying in to stop Hood, teams are allowing Logan, Mitch Trubisky, and the receivers to run wild. Hood’s relative regression has not hamstrung the team whatsoever; it may have actually helped the team. Hood is an absolute team player; I’m sure he’s not worried about individual statistics. As for the reputation of the program, which some may be questioning after Turner, a very draftable prospect, went undrafted, Hood is definitely getting drafted. He’s one of the ten best running backs in college football, and will be drafted as such. Good scouting departments look at traits, not stats, and Hood is running the same as ever. Our 2017 recruiting class is better than any we’ve had in years, and future classes are looking up as well. Again, we have nothing, beyond winning every game we can this season, to worry about.