When he was hired to coach Colorado’s running backs last winter, Darian Hagan knew he had a group of talented players with which to work.
It didn’t take long, however, for Phillip Lindsay to stand out.
“When I finally started coaching him, I knew he was a special back and he could do some things,” Hagan said.
In his first full season as CU’s lead running back, Lindsay is proving his worth, with 617 all-purpose yards and a team-high seven touchdowns for the Buffs (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12), who host Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday at Folsom Field.
To truly appreciate Lindsay, however, it’s important to recognize his all-around contribution to the offense.
In addition to leading the team in rushing (395 yards) and ranking fourth in receiving (17 catches for 196 yards), the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Lindsay is an exceptional pass protector in the backfield.
“I just take so much pride in it because it’s something I love to do,” Lindsay said of blocking. “I love it. Coach Hagan harps on pass blocking, because that’s going to keep you in the game and that’s going to make you win a game. You can’t just want to run the ball, because that’s selfish. You have to be able to put your body on the line for your brothers out there.”
Despite his size, Lindsay has often taken out defenders much bigger, keeping them away from CU’s quarterbacks.
“It’s just a mentality,” Lindsay said. “I’m not going to let the other guy win.
“If I’m having a great blocking game and Sefo (Liufau) doesn’t get hit because of me and we can score touchdowns, I feel successful with that, because you have to be an all-around running back.”
In addition to Lindsay, Kyle Evans and Donovan Lee have had good moments running the ball this season, while Michael Adkins II has proven himself in the past, when he’s healthy.
While he does trust his other running backs, Hagan has been impressed with Lindsay’s improvement as an all-around, every down back.
“Last game (in a 21-17 loss to USC), he proved he could do it,” Hagan said. “He had 62 plays and didn’t get tired, didn’t take plays off, didn’t try to get himself out of the game. I’m pleased with that.”
What makes Lindsay so good as a pass protector, Hagan said, is that he stays in the backfield to do his job, while a lot of running backs tend to want to get down field with the hope of catching a pass.
Perhaps most impressive to Hagan, however, is how Lindsay responded to a challenge. In the spring, Hagan liked what he saw out of the junior from Denver South, but told him he needed to work on his speed and acceleration with the ball. Hagan believes Lindsay has improved that part of his game.
“He got caught last week by the fastest dude in the Pac-12 (USC’s Adoree’ Jackson), but he had to dive to get him,” Hagan said. “It shows (Lindsay) has passion and desire and he always wants to improve on his game.”
That’s a great quality to have, especially as the Buffs head into the second half of the season hoping to improve their run game.
CU does rank fifth in the Pac-12 with 198.2 rushing yards per game – on pace for their best total, by far, since 2002 – but the inability to run against Michigan and USC proved pivotal in CU’s losses.
Hagan said Lindsay will play a key role in getting the run game going, but he also wants more production from Evans, Lee and Adkins. Lindsay knows the others will get their chances.
“I’ve enjoyed (being the lead back), but I also know we need each other; we need everybody,” Lindsay said. “Offensive line is doing great. As running backs, we have to continue to hit the holes hard. It’s very important for us to get the run game going.
“The runs we get, we just have to make the best of them.”
So far, Lindsay has made the most of his opportunities, making plays in a variety of ways. He just hopes that continues.
“I just want to continue to work on my game and I just want to win football games,” he said.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.