Zac Stacy is no fool. He has been through Running Back 101.
Along with learning how to cut, hit the hole and follow blocks, he also knows not to forget about the big guys in the trenches.
“It all starts off with the offensive line,” the Vanderbilt tailback said. “Against Eastern Michigan (on Saturday), they did a great job at opening holes for all of us.”
The Commodores’ offensive line deserves some of the credit for the running game’s success this season. Vanderbilt is averaging 171.6 rushing yards a game – second in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
But at a certain point during long runs, the offensive linemen become less of a factor. They aren’t the ones breaking tackles and putting on the moves in the open field.
That responsibility belongs to Stacy and he proved he is more than capable of breaking off the big play, rushing for a career-long 67 yard touchdown in the third quarter of a 52-6 victory against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
“One of the main reasons me, Warren (Norman) and even Wesley (Tate) got recruited here was our ability to make guys miss in open space,” Stacy said. “I’m not the fastest guy in the world but I just try to make big plays when they come to me.”
Stacy has ripped off long runs several times in just 15 games at Vanderbilt. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore has 10 rushes of at least 20 yards or more since the start of the 2009 season.
Last year, in a loss to Georgia Tech, he scorched the Yellow Jackets twice, first with a 47-yard reception and then a 62-yard rushing touchdown.
Against Eastern Michigan, he broke through the line of scrimmage, got some help from his teammates and was off to the races.
“He is a great runner,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “We had some exceptional blocks – we had two knockdowns on that play. But he did break a tackle and take off. He has made good decisions. I think his vision has helped him to do that probably more than anything.”
Stacy is part of a loaded Commodore backfield.
Norman, a fellow sophomore, leads the way with 327 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Stacy has three touchdowns and 241 yards on the ground. His 6.9 yards per carry leads the team. Redshirt-freshman Wesley Tate (81 yards) and redshirt-senior Kennard Reeves (59 yards) provide other options.
All four backs have been hampered by injury in some way this season, including Stacy, who suffered a hip ailment at Mississippi last month. But the ground game seems as healthy as ever and Stacy says the consistent rotation of running backs in and out opens up the possibility for any of the four to break off a big run.
“That keeps us fresh,” Stacy said. “(Running backs coach Des Kitchings) does a great job at rotating us, keeping us fresh. That is just another big role that plays into being successful on offense.”
The stats back that up. Norman, Stacy, Tate and Reeves all have broken a run of at least 17 yards this season. Even dual-threat quarterback Larry Smith has gotten in on the action, running for 57 yards on a play against Connecticut a couple weeks ago.
Stacy, a native of Centreville, Ala., said that can be linked to the mindset of the offense.
“Really you are just trying to score,” he said. “You should try to have the mentality for that every time you touch the ball – at least I do. I’m pretty sure other backs feel the same way, just to score the ball every time you get it. It is really a pride thing when it comes to running back. You just try to score each and every time you get the ball.”
And scoring on a long run, not just a 1- or 2-yard burst, makes the touchdown even sweeter.
“Any time you break one for 60 that feels good,” Stacy said. “But the thing about it is you try to come back and break another one. That is the fun part about it.”