Bishop Sankey is on fire. After Boise State and Illinois, he has 369 yards rushing, three touchdowns on only 60 carries. He is averaging 184.50 yards per game, good for first in the nation, on an astounding 6.15 yards per carry. Furthermore, Washington has rushed for 541 yards, five touchdowns, 5.2 yards per carry and 270.5 yards per game as a team.
Sankey's production isn't new, as he displayed great production in 2012. However, this year has been different for Sankey and our running game. How is it different? In previous years, a high number of rushes came out of two-back formations (primarily I Formation). Sarkisian's favorite run play to call was "Power 0". "Power O" involves a fullback with a backside pulling guard as lead blockers for the running back. It is designed to overpower the play-side, thus the name "Power O'. As we know, coach Sarkisian installed a "new, high-tempoed offense", involving more shotgun and pistol with spread formations. This combination of formations and personnel involves Sankey regularly lining up as a single back. This affects the run game greatly.
Generally, single back formations rely on zone running plays more than two back formations. Typical zone running plays are inside zone, outside zone, along with zone read and can be run out of shotgun, pistol or under center (except zone read). A good ‘zone' running back must be patient and decisive, always gaining positive yards. Sankey has demonstrated such abilities, as his 6.15 yards per carry average indicates a good ‘zone' running back.
The Illinois game displayed the Dawgs proficiency on inside zone running plays. Sankey ripped off 20+ yard runs on the inside zone play. Despite neither going for touchdowns, these examples highlight Sankey's abilities and how much our run offense has improved.
13:21 left in 3rd quarter
2nd & 1
Ace personnel (2 WR's, 2 TE's & 1 RB)
Washington is lined up in 'Tight Bunch'. Tight end Josh Perkins is the inner most Husky, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is on the line of scrimmage, wide receiver Kasen Williams on the outside and wide receiver Kevin Smith is split out opposite of the bunch. Inside zone blocking rules dictate that uncovered lineman step playside, then work to linebackers.
In this case, the uncovered lineman were both of Washington's guards (left guard Dexter Charles and right guard Colin Tanigawa). Both of them worked to the second level quick because the Illinois linebackers are caught flat-footed with their eyes in the backfield. On an inside zone, Sankey is aiming for the outside hip of the play side guard. Although it is hard to see, the Illinois defensive tackle has beat our right tackle. Sankey reads this, cuts back for a large gain (see GIF below).
The second level blocking and Sankey's decisiveness and elusiveness was the difference between a short gain and a long gain.
2:33 left in 4th quarter
2nd & 12
Ace personnel (2 WR's, 2 TE's & 1 RB)
The Dawgs line up in the same 'Bunch' formation but with a twist. Wide receiver Kasen Williams is on the same side, creating an unbalanced formation. Because of this tight end Seferian-Jenkins is now an ineligible player, meaning he can't run down field to catch a pass. When teams do this, it typically means they are running the ball.
Unbalanced formations create extra gaps for the offense, which also means extra gaps for the defense to defend. Extra gaps also create extra running lanes for a running back. In this play, similar the previous play, Charles and Tanigawa get to the linebackers quick and are blocking them while they are flat footed. Sankey is still aiming for the outside hip of the play side guard.
Look at the space for Sankey to run! Charles and Tanigawa are both still blocking linebackers, while Seferian-Jenkins and Smith have sealed the edge, allowing Sankey to beat the Illinois contain for the game sealing run (see GIF below).
I'd be remiss to not acknowledge the improved offensive line play. One of the main reasons zone running plays can be so effective is due to the marriage of the offensive line and the running back. If both are on the same page and execute correctly, zone running plays are hard to stop because the defense is always wrong. Flow too hard, the running back will cut back. If you stunt, the line adjusts their blocking and the running back finds a different hole.
Sankey and the offensive line have been on the same page. For the most part, the Huskies have been able to block effectively regardless of what the defense does. This allows Sankey to make defenders miss in the open field, rather than behind the line of scrimmage. This also shows the comradery and communication skills of the offensive line, as they have been able to diagnose the defense, block and adjust when needed.
If Washington continues to run the football this successfully, it will be a fruitful season for the Huskies. This requires the offensive line and Sankey remain on the same page. If the first two games are any indication, I believe they have a really good shot.