enCYCLONEpedia: Distributing the rush

It was one of my two biggest keys postmortem from the loss to North Dakota State on Saturday (you can read here); the rushing output from the running backs. Against the Bison, Sam Richardson accounted for 58 of the measly 102 rushing yards accrued by the Cyclone offense.

As a quarterback, Sam is a runner that can do some damage but he does not have the running ability to change the game on his own. His legs cannot single handedly carry the rushing game production to a successful offense. Defenses will allow his mediocre gains in spots because they know that it isn’t a sustainable option for an offense.

In and of itself, the 102 yards is disappointing and not good enough no matter the opponent. Especially against an FCS program breaking in new interior linemen, regardless if it is the three-time defending champs in FCS. But even more disappointing is the fact that the running backs could only muster 44 yards.

They struggled to find success but at the same time, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy combined for just 11 carries. Yes, 23 of their combined 44 yards came on just two carries – each their longest of the day – but that is simply too few of carries no matter how productive they are being. Besides all of that, it isn’t like much of the rest of the offense after Iowa State took the 14-0 lead was working well to explain the ditching of the run game.

For the game, Sam Richardson was credited with 15 rushing attempts. Four of those were Bison sacks and by my memory and estimation three or four more were on designed runs. That leaves an estimated seven carries that were from QB scrambles by Richardson.

Either way, 15 of the team’s 26 rushing attempts came from the quarterback. A quarterback that is a capable runner but sustaining success with that approach while not establishing the running backs churning for yards is extremely difficult.

While the 2014 offense is hoped to be different than the 2013 version, I wanted to run some numbers from last season to see how the Cyclones compared and fared to every other FBS team in terms of utilizing the quarterback in the running game and his production next to the other positions on the same team.

Here is what I found when I ran the numbers and REMOVED sacks from the rushing data:

  • 24.67 percent of all Cyclones rushing attempts came from the quarterback position. That was the 38th most in FBS.
  • The quarterbacks accumulated 34.29 percent of all rushing yards, the 18th most in the nation.
  • The above alone tells you that the quarterbacks outpaced the rest of the team on the ground with the percentage of yards being greater than their percentage of attempts but the quarterback’s averaged 6.03 yards per carry last year, the 27th most in the country.
  • Meanwhile, the rest of the team (including the punter!) registered 301 rushing attempts and just 1,507 total yards. That is an average of five yards per carry. On the surface that doesn’t seem too bad but it was 108th best in all of FBS last year.

Of the 20 FBS teams in 2013 to gain the highest percentage of rushing yards from the QB spot, there were just seven teams that ranked in the top 40 of yards per carry notched by rest of the team. Of those seven teams, five of them notched eight wins or more (Kansas State, Northern Illinois, BYU, Ohio State, and Navy). The point being that those teams were often either elite or pretty good “non-BCS” programs yet it was still very rare to be successful while the quarterback carried so much of the rushing burden. And when that success was achieved it was often matched by the rest of the team running at a great clip as well. Either way, the Cyclones were not in that neighborhood in overall ability to rush the ball last year.

So far this season it seems to be a similar story, albeit with a very small sample size. After the 14-0 lead the offense couldn’t keep it rolling and couldn’t loosen up the defense other than on Sam Richardson scrambles. Wide receiver screens were often thrown off the mark (a major factor in their success) and there was just one shot downfield that I can recall (E.J. Bibbs down the seam into triple coverage).

If this is an offense that will be a drastic improvement over recent years, they have to run the ball and they have to be able to do it with the running back. Richardson, while capable, is not a dynamic runner that will terrify defenses and force them out of game plans with a handful of 10 to 15 yard gains.

As proof look at 2013, of the top 20 teams in rush yards per attempt from non-quarterback positions, 11 of them won eight games or more. Teams like Florida State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Alabama, Missouri, Auburn, LSU, and Oregon. Only Ohio State and Auburn were in the top 40 of percentage of rushing attempts from their quarterback.

I think I found a trend. The key and hurdle is finding a way to replicate it in Ames.