Chris Polk, Receiving Threat

College football is all about tradition — more than a hundred and twenty years’ worth in the case of the University of Washington — so it’s notable whenever a player does something that has never happened before in school history. That was the case Saturday, when Chris Polk rushed for 144 yards and caught four passes for 100 more, becoming the first Husky to record a 100/100-game.

Hundred-yard rushing efforts have become routine for Polk, who has topped the century mark seven times in eight games this season. Saturday, he broke out of a tie with Napoleon Kaufman for the most 100-yard rushing games in Washington history with the 18th of his three-year career.

What’s new is Polk drawing upon his experience as a receiver in high school to pose just as much danger to defenses coming out of the backfield. Already this season, he has 18 catches for 249 yards. The latter number is most notable. Polk isn’t just catching screens and swing passes in the flat. He’s picking up big yardage when he catches the football. Last night, Polk went for 33 yards on a trick play with Devin Aguilar throwing the football and for 43 on a wheel route out of the backfield similar to the play that led to a 70-yard touchdown earlier this season against California. A third reception might have gone for more than 17 yards had Polk not reached the end zone.

If he continues at his current pace, Polk has a chance to make some more history with his ability as a receiver. Already, he ranks sixth in receiving yardage by a Husky running back dating back to the start of the Don James era:

Player              Year   Rec    Yds     YPC
Greg Lewis          1989    45    350     7.8
Greg Lewis          1990    20    345    17.3
Vince Weathersby    1985    46    314     6.8
Corey Dillon        1997    18    304    16.9
Rich Alexis         2002    27    266     9.9
Chris Polk          2011    18    249    13.8

Chris Polk          2011*   27    373    13.8

Projected to a full regular season, Polk would top the list, as shown by his second line. Nobody before complete stats are available on is known to have more receiving yardage than Lewis; Hugh McElhenny would join this list with 339 receiving yards in 1951.

Looking at yards per catch reinforces that there are two very distinct styles among receiving running backs. Vince Weathersby, UW’s all-time leader in receptions out of the backfield, mostly piled up short completions. Polk’s catches have been more robust. His projection would merely tie him for 10th in the single-season leaderboard for total catches by a running back with Alexis and two others. Braxton Cleman, for example, also had 27 catches out of the backfield in 2002, but for a total of just 138 yards.

Oddly, Greg Lewis completely changed styles between 1989 and 1990, catching less than half as many passes for nearly the same yardage. Lewis’ 1989 season and Corey Dillon in 1996 are the closest comparisons to what Polk is doing this season. As a result, Polk is on track to join them at the top of the leaderboard for Husky single-season yards from scrimmage.

Player              Year    GP    Rush    Rec     Yds
Corey Dillon        1996    12    1695    304    1999
Greg Lewis          1990    11    1407    345    1752
Chris Polk          2010    13    1415    180    1595
Greg Lewis          1989    12    1197    350    1591
Napoleon Kaufman    1994    11    1390    199    1589

Chris Polk          2011     8    1016    249    1265
Chris Polk          2011*   12    1524    373    1897

Already, Polk is closing in on 1,300 yards from scrimmage. I can’t say where that ranks because this stat isn’t tracked in the Washington media guide; I had to reconstruct this list from the all-purpose yardage leaderboard, which also includes return yards (of which Polk has none this season). Still, if Polk stays healthy, he’s likely to surpass last year’s total of 1,595 yards from scrimmage and possibly pass Lewis’ 1990 season. Add in a bowl game and Polk could become the first player in Husky history ever to account for 2,000 yards of offense. He would have the benefit of an extra game on the schedule as compared to Dillon and everyone else before this decade, but that would still be an impressive feat.

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