Note: This is not a running back of the Air Raid. This is a fullback from the resistance.
After a long summer of off-field shenanigans from a variety of different teams and players, it’s a blessing to know that football is is right around the corner. Now that we find ourselves a few weeks away from Mark Stoops’ inaugural game as head coach, it’s time to stop asking the “how happy are you to be a head coach” type questions and replace them with questions about the actual up-coming games. From the amazing recruiting to the new found emphasis on marketing, Stoops and company have given us tons to dissect, however, one thing we haven’t had much to breakdown is actual game film. Of course, knowing that Offensive Coordinator, Neal Brown, has returned home, some have examined old Texas Tech highlights to determine how the Air Raid will be run in Kentucky. But while most have fantasies of air raid sirens, video game numbers, and passing touchdowns in their heads, many overlook another important aspect of the game; rushing the football. Sadly, many forget about the noble steeds known as running backs when a pass happy offense comes to town, so in honor of these forgotten souls, I sifted through old data to determine what kind of output the traditional ball carriers experienced in the Air Raid.
As is commonly known throughout these parts, Kentucky already experienced a transition to the Air Raid once in its history when Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, and Tim Couch stormed onto the scene during the late 90’s. As was expected, pass yards, points, and plays were plentiful, but the running backs in the system rarely got the recognition they deserved. Of course, it’s easy to become overshadowed when your quarterbacks throw for 4,000 yards in a season. The first thing I wanted to examine with running backs were the numbers they put up, in particular, the increase from one coach to the next. The below chart shows the total team production in Bill Curry’s final season and compares it to Hal Mumme and Mike Leach’s first year.
As you can see from the above table, total rushing output increased in Mumme’s first year as head coach. What makes this particularly impressive is the amount of attempts. Bill Curry’s offense ran the ball 430 times for 1098 yards while Mumme’s squad rushed for 1238 yards on 312 attempts. The numbers certainly won’t blow you away, but it’s impressive considering the offense isn’t built around rushing. How did some of the individual players improve in the system? Very well actually. In 1996, Kentucky’s leading rushers were Derick Logan and Ray McLaurin who rushed for 700 and 209 yards respectively. They did so on 190 and 74 attempts which gave them individual yard per carry numbers of 3.7 and 2.8. The following season, Kentucky’s leading rushers were Anthony White and Derek Homer who scampered for 723 and 502 yards a piece. Once their carry numbers were taken into account (129 & 88), they averaged 5.6 and 5.7 yards per carry respectively. It’s anyone’s guess if this increase came because of scheme, individual talent, or a combination of the two, but it was a drastic increase in efficiency nonetheless. Now that we’ve compared the rushing games of two Kentucky offenses of the past, let’s examine how Neal Brown’s rushers did in the transition year. The below table compares his 2010 Red Raiders to Mike Leach’s 2009 squad.
In Brown’s first season as Texas Tech Offensive Coordinator, there was a drop in total passing production and passing efficiency. Of course, when you follow one of the greatest passing minds in college football history that’s usually to be expected. However, the rushing game flourished under Brown’s guidance. His first squad was able to rush for 745 more yards and increased efficiency by nearly 0.8 yards per attempt. Individually, there was little change, however there were slight differences. Baron Batch was the Red Raiders’ leading rusher in both 2009 and 2010, with over 800 yards in both seasons. However, his rushing efficiency numbers fell slightly under Brown (5.3 to 4.6). While the leading rusher stayed relatively constant, Brown’s team was much better about distributing the rushing load than was Leach’s final team. Brown’s 2010 squad had five 100-yard rushers while Leach’s squad had three.
What can we expect from Kentucky this season in the rushing department? First and foremost, I’d expect a increase in total rushing yards. Kentucky ranked 92nd nationally last season with 1,665 and Texas Tech ranked 80th with 1,819. When it came to rush efficiency, Texas Tech ranked 48th with 4.56 YPC while Kentucky ranked 75th at 4.13 YPC. I’m not only expecting the increase because of the stats, but I’m also expecting it because of the thin receiving corps.
It’s really difficult to guess if players will respond to a new system, especially ones not specifically highlighted like running backs in the Air Raid. Their responsibilities are so much more than running in this system though; they have to block and catch out of the backfield as well. However, when it comes to traditional rushing, history says these guys have room for improvement, even when they’re not featured. They’ve increased total and average rushing in the past and logic dictates that they can do it this year, especially with a weak receiving corps.