At the beginning of the 2017 season, there was not a clear answer as to who would lead the Mules backfield.
Gabe Vandiver graduated, Marquel McNac was no longer on the team, and Xavier Washpun remained out due to injury. The absence of these three running backs created a need for a fresh set of faces in the backfield. Devante Turner and Koby Wilkerson made a compelling argument for the job in the Mules 66-44 victory over Missouri Western at Walton Stadium Kennedy field on Saturday.
Wilkerson totaled 122 rushing yards and Turner ran for 64 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago in the season opener against the Pittsburg State Gorillas. The duo’s first outing, however, was followed by a trip to Fort Hays during which they ran for a combined 31 yards. The vast difference between their week one and week two production raised the concern: will the pair of redshirt freshmen be reliable moving forward?
Mules fans didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Just over three minutes into the game the Mules defense recovered a fumbled Missouri Western’s 15-yard line. Two plays later, Turner ran seven yards into the end zone to put up the Mules’ first points of the contest.
The other half of the freshmen duo made his presence felt early in the third quarter. The Mules trailed the Griffons 23-20 shortly after halftime, but Wilkerson regained the lead with an 11-yard touchdown run.
Later that quarter Turner out-ran the Griffons defense for a 40-yard gain. He put the exclamation point on the drive with a five-yard touchdown.
Turner led the Mules with 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Wilkerson finished the day with 80 yards and touchdown.
The freshmen’s combined rushing yards against Missouri Western nearly doubled what they accomplished in their week-one breakout performances. This suggests that their production against Pittsburg State better reflects their abilities than did their production in their week two game against the Fort Hays State.
While the game against the Griffons points towards a positive trend for Turner and Wilkerson, only time will tell if they can retain a prominent role in the Mules offense.
Competition on the depth chart could increase if Xavier Washpun is trusted with more carries. The senior running back rushed for 12 yards on three carries against the Griffons. The Missouri Western game marked Washpun’s first action since his injury.
The Mules backfield will look to build off their momentum as the team takes on Emporia State at 2:00 p.m. on Sept. 23 in Emporia, Kansas.