He was named team MVP at the awards banquet and had the team’s top highlight play, a 55-yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh in which he broke a tackle two yards behind the line of scrimmage and then made four more players miss on the way to the end zone.
As good as that was, it wasn’t Mark Walton‘s best run of the year.
That, as his teammates and coaches agreed this week, would be his ridiculous 45-yard dash against Florida State that was negated on a Tyree St. Louis holding penalty away from the play. Walton weaved his way through traffic, spun his way out of a tackle, somehow kept his balance despite being nearly horizontal, and crossed the goal line.
“That was my number one,” he said.
Walton (1,065 yards, 14 touchdowns on 192 carries) wears No. 1 and has been No. 1 for UM all year. After winning the starting job in spring practice from Joe Yearby, an 1,000-yard rusher in 2015, Walton brought a bright attitude to practice every day: “Constant energy, constantly bringing people up,” senior right guard Danny Isidora said.
Like Miami’s offense, Walton struggled in October. He averaged 3.02 yards per carry in UM’s five games (four of which were losses), after going for 8.35 per in UM’s first three games. He finished at a 6.71 clip UM’s final four.
And after that quiet midseason stretch, Walton returned to his tackle-busting ways. Consider these numbers:
- In the first three games (Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State), Walton averaged 5.35 yards after contact per carry, and broke 31 tackles on 49 carries.
- In the next five games (Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame), he averaged 1.23, and made seven defenders miss, on 82 carries.
- In the final four games (Pittsburgh, Virginia, North Carolina State, Duke), Walton had 4.23 yards after contact per carry, and broke 32 tackles on 62 carries.
What’s also notable about that closing stretch is in three of those four games — all wins — Walton had a big-time run to seal the deal. Against Pitt, his 55-yard touchdown removed all doubt in the fourth quarter. His final runs against Virginia (15 yards, 10 after contact, three broken tackles) and North Carolina State (24 yards, 20 after contact, two broken tackles) were touchdowns that put the game away. He had three second-half scores at N.C. State.
Coaches want him to “be more of a vocal leader,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said, but his teammates like what they see now.
“He’s a special back,” senior center Alex Gall said. “He’s awesome. He runs hard. He gives it all he has every day.”
Walton attributed his second-year growth to “watching more film and just being confident with my runs and being confident in my ability to play at this level,” he said. “Just being confident.”
No reason to stop now.