Despite veer toward spread, zone read, Rutgers' Michael Burton maintains role
By Tyler Barto
PISCATAWAY — The last running back Chas Dodd consistently handed the ball off to was Byrnes (S.C.) High School teammate Marcus Lattimore, now with the 49ers.
Rutgers' backfield has paled in comparison, and its recent struggles in the running game have led its coaching staff into a shift in philosophy. It has scrapped traditional run formations and ran 60 of 67 plays from shotgun or pistol in a 28-17 loss Saturday at Connecticut.
What has become of fullback Michael Burton, figured to be left out in a spread preference? Well, not much.
Rutgers is still running plenty of plays with 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) but more infrequently from the I-formation or off-I.
SHOTGUN WITH BASE PERSONNEL
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Burton on the formation: "I think it can give the defense a different look. Usually when you're in shotgun, depending on the personnel you're in, it can be pass-happy. But when you're able like we are to have two backs it can be deceiving whether it's run or pass. It gives us an extra protecting back."
TRIPS WITH BASE PERSONNEL
Burton on the formation: "We can do so much with it. We can line up on one side strong and actually run back to the left, or you can go straight ahead or you can run to the right where all of our guys are. Defenses will think, 'If we load up one side, potentially the ball is going to be coming that way.' But when you can go the other way with it and have big gains, it stretches the defense to protect both sides.
"We've done some different things out of that formation where I'll either stay front side or pull back side. It just gives the defense some issues."
Rutgers has used base personnel on shotgun much more frequently. Whatever the reason, it's isn't seen much at either the NFL or college level.
Still, despite Rutgers' ineffectiveness in the run game and its move toward pass-friendly sets, it's clear Burton isn't being phased out. He caught a pass on Rutgers' first possession and had an end zone target.
But without Paul James, who could miss the season finale Saturday with a lower left leg injury, Burton's role won't be as important as a blocker, since he won't be on the field as much when Rutgers runs the zone read.
Kyle Flood: We can't run effectively out of traditional sets
"We haven’t really gotten deep into the game plan yet, but obviously we’re going to start really getting into it in a few days," Dodd said of the zone read. "Depending on how (James) is, it may affect the game plan."