That’s a topic fans have tossed around a lot the last few weeks as UW’s season has begun to teeter toward the disappointing side.
Many fans have wondered if UW gives up on the run too soon, if simply sticking with the ground game would make the Husky offense a little more consistent.
So I thought I’d look at a few numbers and see what they might indicate.
First, let’s review the Pac-10 stats, which show UW ranks sixth in rushing offense at 162.1 yards per game with 1,135 yards on 248 attempts. UW’s average per carry of 4.6 is also sixth in the Pac-10, as is its attempts per game (which is tied with USC, which has 356 more yards rushing this year than UW in the same number of attempts).
As noted last week, UW is as close to having a 50-50 split of rushing attempts and passing attempts as any team in the conference with 248 rushing and 241 passing.
And for what it’s worth, UW’s running game ranks a little higher than the pass in terms of the conference stats. UW ranks eighth in the conference in pass efficiency with a rating of 129.5, ahead of only Arizona State (whose rating is low due largely to a conference-high 14 picks) and UCLA (which has barely even tried to throw it at times). UW’s pass completion rate of 55.6 percent is ninth in the conference, as is its yards per attempt of 6.8 (each ahead of only UCLA).
So make of those numbers what you will.
Also, before going further, probably worth it to post the rushing numbers by game:
BYU — 31-128
Syracuse — 33-175
Nebraska — 39-175
USC — 34-225
Arizona State — 35-145
Oregon State — 43-189
Arizona — 33-98
Another common complaint is that UW starts out running well, then gets away from the run.
So let’s break down UW’s running numbers by quarter and see what they show:
First quarter — 64-260, 4.0 per attempt.
Second — 58-280, 4,8
Third — 56-231, 4.1
Fourth — 67-339, 5.0
Overtime — 3-13, 4.25
As you can see, UW has actually had more attempts (just by a few, but still more) in the second half this year than in the first. And overall, the running game has been roughly the same in terms of its success in the second half as the first.
As is always the case, there are a few extenuating circumstances — the minus-39 yards on the bad punt snap at BYU happened in the first quarter, for instance, putting a dent in those numbers. It would be 63-299 without that, or 4.7 per attempt. And the best fourth-quarter of the year was the Syracuse game, when UW had the game in hand and was running out the clock, getting 84 yards on 14 carries.
But in general, the numbers show that UW has been pretty balanced in every quarter in terms of both number of attempts and success rate. Maybe, some would argue, that if a team is averaging 4.75 yards per attempt in the first half (as is the case if you throw out that punt snap yardage) it should do even more of that in the second half.
But as the numbers indicate, what may be the real issue is UW’s struggles at times to run in the third quarter.
Here are the third quarter rushing numbers by game:
BYU — 4-14
Syracuse — 7-37
Nebraska — 8-64
USC — 10-25
Arizona State — 10-46
Oregon State — 6-22
Arizona — 11-23
In each of UW’s three wins, it got the running game going again in the fourth quarter — 14-84 against Syracuse, 11-82 against USC and 13-71 against Oregon State.
Here are the fourth-quarter rushing numbers of the four losses: 9-38 against BYU, 7-8 against Nebraska, 4-20 against Arizona State, 9-36 against Arizona.
The Nebraska and Arizona games were out of reach at that point so it really didn’t matter.
Against BYU, 28 of those yards came on one play, meaning the Huskies got 10 yards on the other eight carries in the fourth quarter. Against Arizona State, UW ran 19 plays in the fourth quarter, 13 on two possessions after falling behind by 10 midway through and then essentially throwing every down.
What those numbers obviously show is that when UW has run the ball well in the fourth quarter it has won, and when it hasn’t it has lost.
But is it as simple as saying that UW merely needed to run the ball more in those losses to turn them into wins? That doesn’t seem as clear.
But no doubt, the better UW runs, the better its chances of winning, so it only makes sense that fans want to see the team run more, since a successful running game is the most proven way to being successful on the scoreboard.