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We can run, but are having trouble hiding - Hulk01 - 10-18-2014

“We can’t throw, we can’t run, our line isn’t what Shaw suggested it would be.”

This seems the narrative these days.  And our offense certainly hasn’t scored much.

But for interesting starters, check this. Compare our four primary rushers in 2010—Taylor, Gaffney, Wilkerson, Stewart—with our current top five of Sanders, Wright, Young, Montgomery, and McCaffrey:

2010 running backs
427 carries (33 per game)
2318 yards net (50 yards in losses)
178 yards per game
5.43 yards per carry

2014 running backs

137 carries (23 per game)
822 yards net (12 yards in losses)
127 yards per game
6.00 yards per carry

There are lie, damn lies, and statistics.  But where is the lie in these numbers?

Are this year’s 6,00 yards per rush numbers inflated by a handful of big runs?  No.  We’ve had seven runs of over 20 yards this season, exactly the Pac-12 average.  And we’ve had only one of over 30 yards; only Washington State has fewer.

Is our impressive ypc number inflated by the weak defenses we’ve played? No.  Washington (3.07 ypc allowed) and Notre Dame (3,23) rank in the top 25 in the nation for rushing yards allowed per game.  And our opponents have allowed 4.1 yards per carry for the season, right about the NCAA average.

These numbers make it tempting to conclude that the problem with our running game is that we don’t run enough.  And we don’t run as often; we’ve run almost 33% less often.  Why?  ]

One culprit has been offensive penalties and sacks, which have put us in an unusual number of must-pass situations,  In 2011, we faced only one play all year of 3rd and more than 15.  This year, we already have faced nine.  We’ve gone from 0.15 such plays per game to 1.5.  And we’ve faced more second-and-must-pass situations, too, thanks to the increase in penalties.  (Conference-wide, by the way, penalties are up almost 50 percent from last year.) 

Stanford sack yards lost
2011:  5.8 yards per game
2014:  12.8

Stanford penalties

2011: 6.2
2014: 6.8

To fully appreciate the impact of our offensive penalties on our ability to continue drives, avoid obvious passing situations, and score points,  check this list of the outcome of each of our offensive penalties this season:

Shuler hold; 1st and 20
Garnett false start:  Ist and 22
Garnett holding: 2d and 20

Caspers false start: 1st and 15
Peat holding: 2d and 18
Casper tripping: 2d and 32
Cajuste false start: 2d and 11
Illegal formation: 3rd and 5
Delay of game: 3rd and 10
Wright chop block negates touchdown pass, results in 3rd and 19


Garnett holding, 2d and 13

Hopper false start, 2d and 8
Wright chop block, negates 26 yard completion to Cajuste, results in 3rd and 19

Notre Dame

Hooper false start, 3rd and 12
Peat false start, 3rd and 17
Garnett false start, 1st and 15
Hogan grounding

Cajuste offensive pass interference, negates pass to Pratt to result in 2d and 4, results in 1st and 25
Ward holding, 1st and 20
Caspers holding, 2d and 20
Murphy holding, 2d and 30
Cajuste illegal shift, negates 35 yard touchdown pass to Montgomery, results in 3rd and 16
Caspers false start, 2d and 7

So it appears our running game has been productive—or productive enough—but our sacks and penalties too often have forced us into obvious passing situations and removed the run as a legitimate threat.

Now, one last key statistic may provide a final piece to the puzzle of this year’s offensive struggles.
Our third and longs are up this year from each of the last four years. Luck faced 3.4 such situations per game in his final year.  In the two seasons after, Hogan faced them 3.7 times per game.  But this year, he’s faced them  4.5 times per game.  And his performance on third and seven or more has been truly unLuckian:

Luck covering on third and seven or more, 2011:
Running: 2-6
Passing: 16-36
Total conversions: 18 for 44, 46%

Hogan this season:
Running 0-2
Passing: 4-25
Total conversions: 4 for 27, 14%

Of course, it’s tempting to say, “Of course his numbers are much lower. He’s not Andrew Luck”  But the problem, at least statistically, is not that Hogan has not been Andrew Luck this season .  As Hogan’s stats in these situations entering the season suggest, Hogan hasn’t even been Kevin Hogan:

Hogan converting on third and seven or more, 2012 and 2013 seasons:
Running: 5-19
Passing: 31-59
Total conversion: 36 for 78, 46% (actually fractionally better than Luck in 2011)

For two seasons  in these money down situations, Kevin Hogan actually was Andrew Luck. 

What the hell may have happened?  And didn’t we assume that the arrival of the three sophomore tight ends might actually improve our ability to convert on third down passing situations?  Wouldn’t “the best group of receivers in the conference,” each with a year more of experience, make us even more effective? 

Perhaps the increased sack totals reflect a fact that even when he hasn’t been sacked, Hogan has seen more pressure.  But is that alone enough to describe the decline from 36 for 78 to 4 for 27?  And is this a permanent problem for Hogan and this offense?

It’s hard to imagine that Hogan has declined that much, particularly with his added experience.  It’s easiest, and certainly most comforting to a Cardinal fan, to imagine we will seem some progression back toward his mean performances of his first 23 games.

And so I hope. Because contrary to what I'd feared, our running game not only isn't the problem, but may not be a problem at all.

Re: We can run, but are having trouble hiding - gocard14 - 10-18-2014

I agree that the rumors of the demise of our running game have been greatly exaggerated. That being said, I feel that our running has had to get more creative (fly sweeps, edge runs, etc.) to get the same yardage. 

This isn't a bad thing. Our O-line is extremely athletic but raw (especially on the right side), and getting them out on the edges takes advantage of that. The "phonebooth"style of play isn't our forte this year, and that's just fine as long as we recognize that and call plays accordingly.  This includes short yardage situations. When we were converting 80% of our 3rd and 2 power runs, being predictable was ok, but that's not the case anymore.

Re: We can run, but are having trouble hiding - 81alum - 10-18-2014

I agree that penalties are a big part of the problem.  Another part of the issue are the defenses we face.

We are averaging 6 yards per carry running against mostly base defenses.  In previous years we were averaging 5.43 yards per carry running against 8 and 9 in the box. 

The defensive coordinators do not fear our running game to the extent they used to, and so they hope to control it with fewer defenders.  This gives them an extra safety or two for pass defense and thus Hogan does not get as many long throws as did. 

So, paradoxically,  the lack of a sufficiently threatening running game has had more of an effect on our passing than on our running.  We get about the same running results against easier defenses, but pay the price by facing better pass coverage.  Defensive coordinators want to make Hogan throw into tight windows on third down.  That is their scheme.

I do think the solution is to run more.  Run until the opponents are forced to commit their safeties to the run box, like before.  Then Hogan's play action become far more effective on all downs.