Every season, coaches say the same things about their top offensive threat. Their goal is to get the ball in the top playmaker's hands as often as possible. Most of the time that is very hard to accomplish considering the amount of coverage that player then receives.
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are no different in wanting to find new and interesting ways the get the ball in the hands of wide receiver Richie James. The rising sophomore came on the scene and destroyed school records left and right in 2015.
The combination of Brent Stockstill to Richie James resulted in 108 catches for 1,346 yards and eight touchdowns. James finished the season #10 nationally in receiving yards per game and tied for second nationally with 108 receptions.
If you aren't a believer in James, check his play out versus Western Michigan, especially his catch and run at the 3:30 mark.
The most amazing part of the Stockstill to James connection was the completion rate. The Blue Raiders completed 74% of all passes thrown to James in 2015. That is a ridiculous number considering the fact that 146 passes were thrown in the direction of James on the year.
And they want to get the ball in his hands even more in 2015??
Yes, 150 times to be exact. During the Bahamas Bowl loss to Western Michigan, the ESPN announcing crew casually mentioned that the goal of the MTSU coaching staff is to get the ball in the hands of James at least 150 times in 2016.
150 touches in a bowl season adds up to 11.5 touches per game. Getting that many touches in a single season is incredibly difficult for anyone that does not play running back. For example, in James' record setting 2015 season, he touched the ball on 121 occasions. 108 of the touches were receptions, 12 were rushes, and one was kickoff return. He would still need another 29 touches to get to 150 this fall.
There must be a way to do it. How do the Blue Raiders find 29 more touches for James in the same number of games this fall?
More Passing Targets?
Passing the ball to James will not be an easy task as the only other receiver on MTSU's roster to have over 30 catches (Ed Batties) last season is lost to graduation. It would expected for Stockstill to target James even more than the 29.8% of all pass attempts last fall due to James being the only experienced target.
That gets a little tricky as defenses will focus more on taking James away from the offense and making other receivers like tight end Terry Pettis and Demetrius Frazier beat them. James needs another wide receiver to step up in to get more open targets.
When you have a player as electric as James, the first thought is to use him on special team to return punts and kickoffs. That is not always the best idea, especially considering that MTSU has a plethora of running backs that can handle the job. There is no use tiring James before the offense even takes the field.
He may get a few more returns than in 2015, but any more than a handful would be a huge surprise.
Running The Ball?
Bingo. Just look at the Bahamas Bowl as an example. James caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also the leading rusher. He carried the ball two times for 61 yards and another touchdown in that game. The offensive staff figured out how to give the ball to him on end around and other running plays to get his touch total to 10 for the game.
MTSU was much better at getting him involved in the running game as the season progressed. James carried the ball nine times in the last five games, gaining 134 yards and a touchdown. The dynamic of James involved in the running game, along with a stable of very good backs, is a scary proposition for any defense.
Is it possible?
It is possible for James to get that many touches, but very difficult. The Blue Raiders have the offensive coordinator and quarterback to make 150 touches happen, but it would take everything going perfect on offense to accomplish that goal.
Whether he can find a way to 150 touches in 2016 or not, James is on pace after his first year to demolish every receiving school record on the books. He is only 130 receptions, approximately 1,700 yards, and 14 touchdowns from holding the school record in all three categories. He has an outside shot of finishing the 2016 season as the record holder in all three categories.
James is not afraid of competition as his best games as a freshman (10 catches vs. Alabama, 187 yards vs. WMU, 12 catches vs. Illinois, 10 catches vs. Louisiana Tech) came against high quality competition. Expect to see James put up video game numbers this fall.