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For far too long, I have questioned whether John Hubert could truly be the top running back on a top team in the Big 12 Conference. This is my mea culpa.
I don't know about the rest of you, but it isn't easy for me to admit I was wrong. Perhaps to an unhealthy and unfair degree, it takes a lot for me to change my perception of someone once I've made up my mind. Enter John Hubert.
My skepticism about our stud running back began before last season, when I was basically latching onto anyone who I thought could be a suitable replacement for Hubert. Angelo Pease? Give him chance. Current Philadelphia Eagles second string (I don't understand either) running back Bryce Brown? Only the irrational, worse case scenario could keep him from taking Hubert's spot.
Then Hubert had his breakout game, and I tried my best to pay him some respect. But even then, I concluded by tempering expectations, still wondering if he was even "the best running back on the team." Later that week, I decided he "didn't look like a consistently quality Big 12 back."
Even after he had proven over the course of the season he was, in fact, exactly that, I continued to believe a big part of that was because Collin Klein was getting all of the attention and somehow Hubert's 970 yards were a fluke. Over the summer, I questioned whether Hubert's teammates really wanted him as their top back, then I brought out the tired memes of him not having the requisite "quickness, speed, and strength needed to reach 1,000 yards in the Big 12."
Now that Hubert has made me look like a complete idiot and put himself well above the pace for 1,000 yards while showing continued improvement, I'm here to say I'm sorry. I'm done putting limits on Hubert. This guy can do anything.
So why was I so wrong? Even if I wasn't alone — and I'm pretty sure I wasn't — it's kind of embarrassing that we underestimated our reliable running back so badly. Of course, it's much better than getting it wrong the opposite way, I suppose.
It's hard to say exactly why Hubert doesn't seem like a great running back if you're not watching closely, but it probably begins with his size. When I see a 5-7, 191-pound back, my first impulse is to think he must possess otherworldly speed and quickness, or he will not be successful.
But for all the things Hubert is, he is not Darren Sproles. That's the one criticism I will make in this post, and I'm pretty sure no one is going to challenge it. Sproles was a once-in-a-generation type player who still does things in the NFL that virtually no other back can do.
Hubert's gifts are less obvious, or at least that's what I've decided to make myself feel better about missing most of them for more than a year. He has incredible balance that keeps him low to the ground and makes him very difficult to tackle, plus his strength and drive help him earn extra yards on virtually every play.
That's not to say he's incapable of making spectacular plays. Just watch the touchdown run against Oklahoma from the behind-the-line view, and you see a juke that would make Sproles proud and still perhaps wasn't the most impressive part of his unstoppable drive to the endzone (see photo).
Let's not forget all the little things Hubert does as well, from blocking to knowing exactly when and where to hit the whole to even making himself available for short passes when necessary. He's the quintessential team player who can do just about anything you ask and seems happy to do it all in the shadow of his superstar quarterback.
In fact, I'm not even so sure anymore that Klein is helping Hubert in the run game as much as Hubert is helping Klein. Last year, I certainly considered Klein as K-State's top running back, but this season I'd much rather see Hubert taking handoffs than Klein running the QB draw, with the possible exception of goal-to-go situations.
Kansas State's coaches seem to be reaching the same conclusion, as Hubert surpassed Klein in terms of total carries for the season for the first time ever during the Oklahoma game. With Hubert's 6.5 yards per carry to Klein's 4.6 (including sacks), total yardage isn't even close.
Just about the only thing Hubert hasn't done in a Wildcat uniform is have an absolute monster day. His career high remains the impressive 166 yards he posted against Miami last season, and partly because of Klein's renowned goalline prowess, he has never scored more than one touchdown in a single game.
Word on the street has it that KU's run defense is pretty terrible, though slightly better than years past. Wouldn't it be great to see Hubert have a 200+ yard, 3 TD type of day? I certainly wouldn't bet against it. Not anymore.