Heisman Watch: San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey pursuing history
For an all-time great college running back, Donnel Pumphrey really doesn’t get the love he deserves.
Not only is he lapping the rest of the field in rushing yardage this season, but if he can get another 1,014 yards — a mark he is on pace to easily clear, especially if San Diego State ends up representing the West Divison in the Mountain West Championship Game — he can stand alone as college’s all-time greatest rusher.
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In a college environment that has become increasingly pass-happy with running backs serving more as a change of pace or short yardage option, Pumphrey has been a good ol’ fashioned workhorse for the Aztecs. The Las Vegas native has carried the ball nearly 28 times per game, including an absurd 38 times in Friday’s win at Fresno State.
Rush averages by quarter for #AztecFB's Donnel Pumphrey this year:— GoAztecs Stats (@GoAztecsStats) October 16, 2016
1st - 5.1
2nd - 6.3
3rd - 7.5
4th - 7.8
1st - 5.6
2nd - 7.6
With heavy usage comes heavy yardage, but that’s not to say Pumphrey’s offensive production is only a byproduct of the number of handoffs he gets: his 6.7 yards per carry still ranks 14th among FBS running backs, many of whom have been given the ball more than 100 times fewer than him.
The six-game tally is 1,111 yards for Pumphrey, a 169-yard lead over BYU’s Jamaal Williams, who also happens to have played in an additional game to this point. Add Pumphrey’s 185-yards-per-game average to his current total, and it’s a 354-yard advantage over second place.
There have only been 28 200-yard rushing performances across the FBS this season. Three of those belong to No. 19, including his 220-yarder on Friday and a 281-yard performance against California in Week 2.
So how has he managed to carve out such an impressive career? Pure speed, agility and vision.
Standing at just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Pumphrey doesn’t have the appearance of a running back who is going to be able to carry the ball 30 times and get back up in one piece each time. He makes up for his diminutive physique with his ability to avoid the big hits, stopping on a dime to change direction. That way, if he does go down, it’s done with the tackler’s arms rather than his body.
It’s really a shame that the Aztecs were stunned at South Alabama in Week 5, as they would have had a very good chance of running the table. They were ranked as high as No. 19 at the time of their lone loss, meaning a New Year’s Six bowl was not out of the question, especially given Houston’s eventual loss to Navy and late-season game against Louisville.
That’s probably off the table now, and to be realistic, a lack of that sort of hype and exposure could be a fatal blow in Pumphrey’s Heisman chances. Now, his ceiling might be being named a finalist. But still, only a few players receive that honor, so it is certainly worth discussing.
Another spot where his hopes might suffer is in the passing game, as he has not been much of a factor there other than a seven-catch, 57-yard performance against UNLV. Though when the man is getting the ball handed off to him almost every time he lines up, can you really blame him for not having a ton of opportunities to pad his receiving numbers?
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Pumphrey has found the end zone in each of San Diego State’s first six games, including multi-score performances in three of them. He’s gone over 100 yards in every game but the opener, when he just barely missed the mark with 98. Since then, he’s been otherworldly, with outings of 281, 220, 151, 141 and 220 yards.
Now going back to the pursuit of Dayne, the Aztec’s current pace has him ticketed for a 2,592-yard season if San Diego State makes the conference championship game and a bowl.
Not only would that place him just 36 yards back of Barry Sanders’ single-season record set in 1988, but it would break Dayne’s record by nearly 500 yards.
Even if he falls off the pace considerably, Pumphrey needs just 126.8 yards per game over the final eight (if the Aztecs win their division). He currently sits at No. 8 all time after passing three legends — Archie Griffin, Herschel Walker and LaDainian Tomlinson — on Friday.
SDSU RB Donnel Pumphrey tonight passed Archie Griffin, Herschel Walker, LaDainian Tomlinson & others to become 8th on career FBS rush list. pic.twitter.com/2IHz8Zhe8J— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 15, 2016
Looking ahead at San Diego State’s schedule, you have to love some of the matchups, too. Next week’s opponent, San Jose State, has allowed the 16th-most rushing yards per game. A few weeks after that, Hawaii is 10th worst, and Nevada after that has allowed the seventh most.
And of course, these are all numbers prior to Pumphrey coming to town and possibly making them look a lot worse.
So what does it all add up to? A player who many would be surprised to learn is quickly becoming the best ever. He has already destroyed Marshall Faulk’s stranglehold on the San Diego State record book, and he’s coming on strong for the NCAA record book, as well.
Could a Heisman Trophy be coming as the deserving capper to his brilliant college career?