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Better/Worse/Neutral: The Run Game

Washington was effective at times running the ball last year, but most of the OL has graduated and the most effective runner is off to the NFL - as a linebacker. Can the 2015 rushing attack match or exceed last year's production?

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Key Losses: Micah Hatchie (OL), Ben Riva (OL), Colin Tanigawa (OL), Mike Criste (OL), James Atoe (OL), Shaq Thompson (LB/RB), Jesse Callier (RB)

Key Additions: Jomon Dotson (RB), Myles Gaskin (RB), Matt James (OL), Jesse Sosebee (OL), Kaleb McGary (OL), John Turner (OL), Trey Adams (OL)

While many think of Chris Petersen's offenses as being pass-first, his history at Boise State actually shows a firm commitment to the running game.  Even in the high-flying days with Kellen Moore at QB, the Broncos averaged 177.8 ypg on the ground, and that commitment was particularly evident last year with the Huskies as they ran the ball 60% of the time.

Their effectiveness on the other hand was more of a mixed-bag.  While Washington finished 42nd in the country in ypg (188.6), they fell to 63rd in ypc (4.35), and S&P rated the rush offense 65th.  The Huskies had some big days against Eastern Washington, Colorado, Oregon State, Illinois, Arizona and WSU, but struggled against Stanford, Cal, ASU and Oregon and were less effective against Georgia State than you would have figured vs. the 2nd worst rush defense in FBS football last year.

So while this part of the Husky offense wasn't bad, it wasn't the strength it needed to be to enable the team to compete with the top programs in the conference.  And now they have to contend with losing most of the starting offensive line as well as their most consistent and effective running back - last year's Paul Hornung Award winner Shaq Thompson who moved over from his starting linebacker spot mid-season when injuries ended Jesse Callier's season and hobbled Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman.

On the other hand, the Huskies return Washington, Coleman, Deontae Cooper and welcome Jomon Dotson to the running back group after a redshirt year.  Myles Gaskin arrives as a freshman and has enough ability to put a redshirt year in doubt, and the Huskies can also add in wrinkles such as Jaydon Mickens and freshman Chico McClatcher on fly sweeps.  Not to mention the possibility of another two-way threat in Budda Baker.

The way the former WR Washington finished the year - with three consecutive 100-yard games against Arizona, Oregon State and WSU where he averaged 7.82 ypc - suggests that he's settling in to his new position and gaining a comfort level in the blocking and run schemes introduced by the new staff.  Cooper showed a steady effectiveness, and with another healthy year under his belt may be ready to shoulder a heavier load.  Coleman is an X-factor - he was highly praised by the former staff, but he struggled last year to find holes and run through contact the way his rugged build would suggest.  If he can stay healthy and start feeling more comfortable in this scheme it would give the staff enough effective runners to allow Gaskin to redshirt.

The bigger question of course is with a revamped offensive line light on career starts.  While they have far less game experience than last year's group, they do have the advantage of being in year two of a new system, one that is no longer almost strictly a zone-blocking scheme but now incorporates quite a bit of pulling and power looks.  They're also in year two with the new strength & conditioning staff, and their strengths & weaknesses should be much clearer to OL Coach Chris Strausser.

Verdict: Neutral

This may be a conservative pick here - I'd love to think that year two under this staff plus continued improvement with the RB crew (particularly D. Washington) will equal an uptick in the effectiveness of the running game.  But the productivity of Shaq at RB (7.48 ypc) was significant and not easily matched, and the one thing the graduated OL were known for in their career at Washington was their run blocking, so I'm reluctant to say this aspect of the offense will be better.  Another factor that I didn't mention, but which could have a major impact, is who ends up as the starting QB.  Cyler Miles had been known as a strong dual threat QB when he arrived in Seattle, but his hip condition appeared to have had an impact on his willingness to keep the ball on the zone-read plays.  Jeff Lindquist on the other hand is a more-than-willing runner, and while he doesn't have as much speed as Miles, he's a big guy that's hard to bring down.  KJCS also brings a legitimate dual-threat aspect in his game.  Both of those guys could add another dimension to the offense by making the QB a significant threat as a runner.