Say what you want about the loss of Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Greg Little. As the Tar Heels' 2010 season has continued into November with the lack the last two games of tailback Johnny White, the loss of Ryan Houston has taken on more significant proportions.
Just consider this little reminder from 2009:
In the Tar Heels' 19-6 win over Duke in early November, Houston rushed 37 times for 164 yards. Two-yard gains became five yards as the game wore on. Five-yard gains became 10. Houston literally wore the Blue Devils to a nub by carrying 10 times on the game-clinching fourth-quarter drive.
They could certainly use him Saturday in Wallace Wade Stadium.
White was lost for the year three weeks ago against Florida State. Anthony Elzy has moved from fullback and played exceedingly well, but he has ankle, shoulder and calve issues. Shaun Draughn has two tender ankles. Both are expected to play Saturday against Duke and hopefully they'll hold up for four quarters.
There's also a good chance the Tar Heels will use speedy tailback Hunter Furr, who played a key back-up role at FSU with three carries for 29 yards in the fourth quarter.
Houston missed the first five games because of academic issues, and then with White playing so well and the veteran Draughn available, the decision was made to red-shirt him. The move will certainly pay off in 2011, but it's making the tailback ranks ultra-thin as the 2010 season winds to a close.
"One of the real drawbacks to this season is the number of times against Miami and Florida State and others we drove inside the 10 and had to settle for a field goal," Butch Davis says. "In previous years, Ryan runs over everyone on their team and knocks it in the end zone. His success ratio on third-and-one and third-and-two inside the five is outstanding. We conceivably have missed five to six or seven touchdowns this year we'd love to have had."