University of Miami sophomore running back Joe Yearby, soft spoken off the field, has quietly been making his mark on it.
The Hurricanes, ranked 116th nationally in rushing offense with a 3.7-yard-per-carry team average, unquestionably have been hindered by a young offensive line that has struggled to open up the running game.
Yet despite working that much harder for his lanes, the 5-9, 203-pound tailback out of Miami Central High needs just 160 yards to hit 1,000 — the benchmark for running backs.
It could be difficult to earn them Friday in Pittsburgh against the Panthers (8-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), whose rushing defense is ranked 25th nationally.
The Canes (7-4, 4-3) average 119.8 on the ground.
“It has kind of been steady, steady, steady, steady, steady,” UM interim coach Larry Scott said Tuesday of Yearby’s running. “We have two ballgames to see if we can get that done for him this season.”
Added offensive coordinator James Coley: “I’m so proud of him. … He’s what, 160 away from 1,000 yards? That’s pretty good.”
He’s kind of like that quiet leader who really doesn’t talk loud but approaches guys and pushes guys, whether it’s a receiver or offensive lineman or the quarterback.
James Coley, UM offensive coordinator, on Joe Yearby
Yearby isn’t focusing on that number, nor that he’s seventh in the ACC in total rushing yards with his 840, and sixth in yards per game, averaging 76.3. His 4.97-per-carry average is 13th in the conference, with Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook’s 7.97 leading the way.
Yearby is tied for third in the ACC with 36 plays of 10-plus yards rushing. He’s tied for second with 13 plays of 20-plus yards.
“I’m just trying to do anything to help the team win,” said Yearby, who has six rushing touchdowns and two receiving, with 273 yards through the air.
Helping him in that goal is freshman Mark Walton, whose nine touchdowns (eight rushing) rank third by a UM freshman since 2000. Walton (419 yards rushing), who regards Yearby as a mentor, is one of just eight freshman running backs nationally with at least eight rushing touchdowns.
Yearby said with a grin that when tailback Gus Edwards returns next year from his season-ending foot injury, he has a nickname picked out for the trio.
“Three-headed monster,” Yearby said. “I’m already claiming the name.”
For now, Yearby continues to grind, quiet in demeanor but loud in his leadership skills. He is known to occasionally swat players on their helmets or get in their faces if they make a boneheaded mistake or allow quarterback Brad Kaaya to get sacked.
“He’s kind of like that quiet leader who really doesn’t talk loud but approaches guys and pushes guys, whether it’s a receiver or offensive lineman or the quarterback,” Coley said.
Kaaya said Tuesday that he approves of Yearby’s constructive bark. “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. It’s good to have Joe on the field and off the field not so much being a drill sergeant, but just holding guys accountable. That’s huge for us as an offense.”
Offensive lineman Kc McDermott earned Yearby’s wrath one game when he missed his assignment and Kaaya got pummeled.
“Hard worker, really tough kid, always pushing his teammates to get better,’’ McDermott said. “I know everyone was, ‘He hit Kc.’ He was doing that because he wants the best to come out of everybody. On the other hand, when he messes up he doesn’t mind if someone does that to him. He owns it.”
When Yearby “gets that ball in his hand,” McDermott said, “he doesn’t care what’s happening around him. He’s going to push forward and try to get as many yards as possible.”
ACC leading rushers
Dalvin Cook, FSU
Elijah Hood, UNC
Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Qadree Ollison, Pitt
Travon McMillian, Va. Tech
Matthew Dayes, N.C. State
Joe Yearby, Miami
Marquise Williams, UNC
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Taquan Mizzell, Virginia