Rethink Possible: Blue Raider tailback unseats Smith for POTW honors
MT running back Benny Cunningham’s career day versus Georgia Tech on Sept. 30 made waves across the college football landscape, but it was not apparent until late that week just how many had taken notice of the senior’s accomplishment.
The Nashville native, who hails from Goodpasture High School, was voted the AT&T All-American Player of the Week, a national award given to the Football Bowl Subdivision player with the most outstanding performance, according to the college football fans across the nation.
Cunningham ran through, over and around the Georgia Tech defense last Saturday, accounting for 217 rushing yards on 27 carries and five touchdowns, only one shy of the school record held by current Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner. The talented tailback also caught one pass out of the backfield for 12 yards, pacing the Blue Raiders to a 49-28 victory over their ACC opponent and a third-straight victory after dropping the season opener to McNeese State.
MT Head Coach Rick Stockstill said he was not surprised by his star running back’s effort against the Yellow Jackets.
“Benny is one of the hardest workers that I have ever been around, whether we are in shorts or full pads, whether it’s January at 5 a.m., or in the weight room,” Stockstill said. “He’s got a tremendous work ethic, and that is a credit to his family and how he has been raised.”
Cunningham has suffered more than his fair share of injuries during his time in Murfreesboro, missing time in 2011 with a broken foot and being sidelined earlier this season with a shoulder injury that Stockstill said that still has him short of 100 percent. The coaching staff was not sure if he would be able to play until two days before the Georgia Tech game.
However, the shoulder injury did little to slow him down in Atlanta in front of a crowd of 39,270.
His performance goes down as one of the top-10 single game rushing efforts in Blue Raider history and the 60-yard touchdown run that he ripped off in the second quarter of the Georgia Tech game is the longest run by an MT player since 2010, a 24-game stretch. The 200-yard effort also earned him Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week from by a pair of outlets and the College Football Performance Football Awards National Running Back of the Week.
The AT&T All-America honor has sparked a bit of controversy among some college football fans, though.
Four finalists are selected each week for the award by ESPN analysts, with the fan vote deciding the winner. Among those finalists was one Geno Smith, quarterback of renowned offensive mastermind Dana Holgerson’s West Virginia Mountaineers squad.
Smith, an early favorite for this year’s Heisman Trophy, put together one of the most vaunted single-game passing performances in Football Bowl Subdivision history when he completed 45 of 51 passes for an astounding 656 yards and eight touchdowns in a shootout victory over Baylor. The game gave Smith a single-game passer rating of 248 for the performance and led many to believe he would be named national player of the week hands down.
Upon hearing Cunningham had taken home the award over Smith, some fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure at the MT product’s selection.
The nation’s fans had already spoken, though, selecting Cunningham as the AT&T All-America Player of the Week for the first time, but not necessarily the last, if the MT letterman has anything to say about it.
– Photo Credit: Drew Gardonia