Richmond’s senior running back Jacobi Green’s season totals would jump off of any stat sheet.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native has 1,563 yards on the ground, 22 total touchdowns and 24 receptions going into Saturday’s FCS semifinals against current “four-peat” national champion, No. 3 North Dakota State (11-2). His single season touchdown total is second only to the 23 scored by former Spiders and current New Orleans Saints’ running back Tim Hightower in the team’s history.
What’s less striking on paper is the dramatic ascent of his game after a seminal 59-49 victory over then-undefeated James Madison. Against the Dukes, Green had 236 yards and five touchdowns and didn’t let up from there.
The spike in Green’s numbers bear a striking similarity to a westerly view of the north face of Mount Everest. Through six-games he was averaging 60 yards and one touchdown per outing. Including the victory over the Dukes, the 5-9 junior has averaged 172 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game.
“What we learned, that we maybe didn’t know going in [to the season], was that Jacobi is a better runner when we’re not in the shotgun,” said Richmond’s fourth-year head coach, Danny Rocco. “That caught us maybe a little off guard,” he added.
The read option offense out of the pistol, or shortened shotgun, that pervades in today’s college game draws its strength by adding to the ability of a both a running back and quarterback to pick openings based on the defense’s initial movement. What it often loses is the forward momentum of a running back taking a handoff from a five to seven-yard depth.
Clearly Green benefits from taking a handoff in stride. He is currently on a seven-game, 100-yard streak and he posted a second 200-yard contest against CAA rival William & Mary in the Spiders’ regular season finale.
The adjustment to the offensive play calling has not limited redshirt sophomore quarterback Kyle Lauletta, who has 3,427 yards passing and 18 aerial scores so far. By switching out of the pistol, and lining up in either a single-back or I-formation, Lauletta gains from a play-action fake that is clearly easier to sell when he’s under center.
“Last year was the first season that we threw for over 3,000 yards. We did it again this year. It’s the best system for Kyle,” said Rocco.
In the victory against Illinois State last week, Jacobi had four touchdowns to help the Spiders make their first trip back to the FCS semifinals since their 2008 national championship season. His 28-yard touchdown run with just 2:19 on the clock proved the closer, as the Redbirds earlier put up two fourth quarter scores to draw within five points of the Spiders. In the end, Green had three of the game’s final four touchdowns, a pattern of rising output that mirrored his season’s ascent.
On Tuesday, Green was named Associated Press Second Team All-American. He also received an unusual but fitting award from his teammates this year, as he was selected as one of the team captains for the Spiders going into the postseason.
“I did what I also did last year, at the end of the season … I offered another opportunity for my team to vote on captains. Because when you start the season, you get a really good feel for what you think it’s going to be,” said Rocco. “But at the end of the season, you realize that a couple of extra guys belong in that mix. He [Green] has so much fun out there in practice; it’s refreshing to be around a guy with so much energy. Our guys recognize that,” said Rocco.
The former Liberty Flames’ head coach tells of having to pull Green off the Spiders’ scout team offense, typically made up of backups that mimic the upcoming opponents’ offensive scheme. Although needing the respite as a starter, Green was reluctant to stop facing the Spiders’ first-team defense across scrimmage in practice.
“He loves coming to the building. He loves football. He just has so much fun out there in practice. I’m really happy for him in getting recognized,” said Rocco.
North Dakota State will have the unenviable task of recognizing Green out of the backfield this weekend.