Joe Santoro: Butler did it — he leaves the Pack
July 6, 2017
Sports fodder for a Friday morning …
The Nevada Wolf Pack's new Air Raid offense has cost itself one of the greatest running backs in school history. James Butler, the eighth leading rusher (3,313 yards) in Wolf Pack history, has chosen to be a backup for the run-heavy Iowa Hawkeyes instead of a starter for the pass-happy Wolf Pack. Butler, who averaged 200 carries a year the last three seasons at Nevada, wouldn't have gotten anywhere close to that this year in the Pack's Air Raid attack under new offensive coordinator Matt Mumme and head coach Jay Norvell. Mumme's offenses at Division III LaGrange College the last four seasons never allowed any one running back to average more than 10 carries a game. It's not a surprise Butler transferred away from the Pack. The only surprise is it took him this long (Norvell hired Mumme in December) to do it.
Butler is one of the toughest, most durable and productive running backs in Wolf Pack history. With his normal 200-plus carries this season he would have had a chance to end up second in rushing yards in Wolf Pack history behind only Frank Hawkins (5,333 yards). But that was never going to happen with Mumme. So it's not likely Butler's absence from the backfield this year will make much difference one way or the other to the Pack's final won-loss record. Mumme's offense is basically a glorified seven-on-seven drill and Butler would've spent his final college season at Nevada blocking, going out for short passes and running on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1. He deserves better and will get it at Iowa.
Butler's ties to Iowa go back to his Illinois high school career. He was recruited in high school by Iowa assistant coach Lester Erb, who later moved to Nevada to join Brian Polian's staff with the Pack in 2013. Butler, who missed his junior year in high school with an injury, wasn't heavily recruited his senior year and was therefore available for Erb, Polian and the Pack for the 2013 season. Not much went right for Polian in his four seasons at Nevada but Butler will always be the best thing he ever did for the Pack. The problem was Polian could never surround Butler with much help in the form of a competent offensive line or a creative offensive coordinator.
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What does playing for Iowa in the Big 10 do for Butler's potential NFL career? Maybe nothing. He will have to share the carries this year in Iowa with returning Hawkeye senior Akrum Wadley, who ran for 1,081 yards and 10 scores a year ago. The guy who shared the carries with Wadley last year was LeShun Daniels, who ended up with 1,058 yards and 10 scores. Daniels wasn't invited to the NFL Combine this year and wasn't drafted but he did sign as a free agent with the New England Patriots, Butler could've done that coming out of Nevada.
Butler had a remarkable career at Nevada, considering he spent the bulk of his time in Silver and Blue running behind questionable, banged up, patchwork and underachieving offensive lines. While Vai Taua had the luxury of running through huge holes and defenses that basically just chased Colin Kaepernick around the field, Butler had to run through people and pick up the majority of his yards after contact. That style worked against the many soft defenses in the Mountain West but it usually came up short against more physical teams like Arizona (33 yards in 2015), San Diego State (32 yards in 2016), Notre Dame (50 yards in 2016) and Purdue (38 yards in 2016). Arguably Butler's two best games for the Pack came at the close of the last two seasons, when he rushed for a Pack bowl game record 189 yards against Colorado State in 2015 and 196 yards and three rushing touchdowns (four TDs overall) against UNLV last November.
Major League Baseball has the best All Star game by far but it has the worst system of picking its All Stars. The silly rule which requires every team to be represented in the game gives us questionable All Stars like Ender Inciarte, Pat Neshek and Brad Hand. Also, the fan voting is affected far too much by players who play well in April, May and June, giving us starters like Ryan Zimmerman, Zack Cosart, Justin Smoak and Jose Ramirez. True All Stars like Jose Abreu, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Brian Dozier, Manny Machado and Robinson Cano aren't in the game. There also needs to be a place in baseball's All Star game for a guy like Albert Pujols, in the final stages of a Hall of Fame career. It's not a true All Star game the way it exists now. It's just a game played by a random collection of players affected by the calendar, an outdated rule and biased and uninformed internet voting.
The best thing about baseball's All Star party next week will be the Home Run Derby. We will get to watch Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees try to hit a ball from Miami to West Palm Beach. Don't bet against him. A home run approaching 600 feet is a definite possibility. The Home Run Derby has replaced the NBA's Slam Dunk contest as the best moment of all of the All Star festivities in the major sports. A Home Run Derby championship round next week of Judge against the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton will be a treat. It will certainly be more entertaining than watching Neshek pitch against Jonathan Schoop during the actual game on Tuesday.
Former Wolf Pack power forward Cam Oliver will begin the most important (up until now) 10 days of his professional basketball life on Friday when the Houston Rockets begin play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Oliver, along with Erik McCree and Shawn Long, is one of three players on the Rockets' Summer League roster who stand 6-foot-8 or 6-9. McCree, who was sort of Conference USA's version of Oliver, looks to be Oliver's biggest competition. Like Oliver, McCree is 6-8, 225 pounds, and is a big man with a fondness for shooting 3-pointers. Oliver is a better shot blocker than McCree but McCree did lead Louisiana Tech in scoring (17.7 points) and rebounding (8.9) a year ago. Also, like Oliver, he was projected to be a second round pick last month but wasn't drafted. The last time Oliver played in Las Vegas he was just 2-of-9 from the field and scored four points as the Pack beat Colorado State for the Mountain West tournament title on March 11.
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