UNC backs T.J. Logan, Elijah Hood hopeful of better things to come

T.J. Logan arrived at North Carolina among the top five running back prospects in the country, according to the recruiting experts, and as one of the best prospects in the state. About a year later, Elijah Hood arrived at UNC with similar accolades.

Logan, now a junior, and Hood, a sophomore, remain among the most lauded offensive prospects UNC has recruited in recent years. They arrived in college amid no shortage of fanfare and hype. Yet for both, their time at UNC hasn’t been exactly what they envisioned.

Both players have struggled with nagging injuries – Logan in both his freshman and sophomore seasons and Hood during his freshman year a season ago. And both players, too, believe they haven’t yet found themselves in coach Larry Fedora’s up-tempo spread offense.

They will enter this season hoping that better things are ahead – believing that they have to be, given their considerable potential and their once-held reputation as can’t-miss prospects. Along with their optimism comes a desire to prove that they haven’t come close to showing their capability.

Indeed, both Logan and Hood speak with a sense of disappointment about what they’ve done in college so far. Their expectations were so high, their talent so unquestioned that perhaps they thought the transition from high school to college might be easy. Or at least easier.

“It definitely wasn’t exactly everything that I wanted it to be,” the 6-foot, 200-pound Hood said of his freshman season. “Especially as soon as I was starting to get a feel for the game, getting hurt. So it wasn’t exactly everything I wanted for my freshman year.

“So I feel like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do from that angle, for sure.”

Logan, who is 5-10, 190, said recently that he has “definitely” been frustrated, and by a variety of things. The nagging injuries. The slow start to last season. Frustrated, too, by the overall lack of success of UNC’s rushing game, which ranked 81st nationally last season.

The Tar Heels ranked that low despite the advantage of a mobile quarterback in Marquise Williams, and despite the presence of Logan and Hood, both of whom entered last season expecting to form one of the most dynamic backfield duos in the ACC. That’s the hope this season, too.

“It definitely should have been better,” Logan, who ran for 582 yards last season, said of the running game. “I feel like we didn’t really find the right pieces, to be honest with you. We had guys out there, we did a lot of changing, so I feel like guys didn’t get a lot of chances to be consistent.

“But I feel like it’s going to get better this season, definitely.”

Experienced offensive line

Logan’s confidence is rooted in a couple of factors, especially. For one, Logan and Hood are a year older and, presumably, more at ease in UNC’s offense.

Perhaps more important, the Tar Heels return the most experienced offensive line in the ACC. Preseason injuries have taken their toll on the line, especially on the interior, but there’s hope that Lucas Crowley, the starting center, will be healthy in time for UNC’s season-opener against South Carolina.

Regardless, the offensive line should be in better shape than it was a season ago, when it was beset by injuries and inexperience. And if the line offers significant improvement, the thought goes, then the running game could blossom, too.

Seth Littrell, in his second season as UNC’s offensive coordinator, has set a goal for the offense to generate 200 rushing yards per game. That would be an improvement of nearly 50 yards from last season, when the Tar Heels averaged 151.4 rushing yards per game.

UNC’s rushing offense was successful as it was a season ago in large part because of Williams, the quarterback. He ran for a team-best 783 yards and 13 touchdowns. Some of his runs came on designed plays but many of them came out of necessity, with Williams scrambling to avoid defensive pressure.

As much as Fedora appreciates Williams’ mobility, he acknowledged that “I’d love for the running backs to be the leading rushers.”

That’s how most offenses are designed, at least – with the goal for running backs to excel. Both Logan and Hood, who along with Romar Morris and Khris Francis form a deep stable of running backs, shared their disappointment that a running back didn’t lead the team in rushing a season ago.

“We’re running backs,” Logan said. “We’re supposed to be the ones putting up the big numbers.”

Hood, who ran for 259 yards last season, was more direct.

“Personally, as a running back, I would hate that,” he said when asked if it was a good thing if a quarterback led the team in rushing. “I would not want the quarterback to lead the team in rushing. I definitely think that should be a running back’s duty to lead the team in rushing.

“That’s why we’re the running back.”

Limited carries

Logan and Hood weren’t without highlights last season. Logan averaged nearly 5 yards per carry, and ended the season with 100-yard performances in two of UNC’s final three games. Hood, meanwhile, ran over defenders when he had the chance.

Neither Logan nor Hood, though, could count on a consistent number of carries. Logan, for instance, had at least eight carries in UNC’s first three games last season, and then he had eight carries combined in the Tar Heels next three games.

His carries reached double figures in four of UNC’s 13 games. Hood, who missed four games in the middle of the season because of an injury, reached double figures in carries in three games. Between two of those three double-digit-carry games, Hood received three carries in a loss against Virginia Tech.

Logan said the lack of consistency in carries affected the backs’ ability to find a rhythm. His ideal number of carries per game this season, he said, is “at least 15.”

“At least,” Logan said again. “I feel like with 15 carries, I’m definitely going to pop one.”

Hood and Logan contrast in a variety of ways, from their size – Hood is taller and more physically imposing – to their running styles. Logan is known for his speed and shiftiness, and Hood more for the pleasure he derives from running through, and not necessarily around, an opposing defender.

They’re close off the field, though, and Logan recently assured “there’s no beef” between him and Hood or among any of the running backs. They spent a lot of time together during preseason camp, often sleeping on blowup mattresses in each other’s rooms, Logan said.

Recently, all of the running backs had a movie night together, Logan said, and they saw the film “Straight Outta Compton.” Then they went back to work at practice the next day and continued to prepare for a season that Logan and Hood, especially, hope will be significantly better.