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Better/Worse/Neutral Rewind - Running Game Review

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Before the 2015 season started we took a look at various aspects of the team and gave our predictions if they would be better, worse or neutral compared to 2014. With the season complete, let's take a look back to see how those predictions turned out. Today we look at the running game.

super frosh RB Myles Gaskin
super frosh RB Myles Gaskin
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Every season in July and August we like to take a look ahead at the upcoming football season and give our predictions about how the team will perform compared to the previous year with our Better/Worse/Neutral series.  In the spirit of accountability, with the season concluded it's time to take a look back at those predictions and see how accurate they were.  Next up is our look at the Husky running game.

Here's what we said

From our article on August 11th, here's our conclusion:

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.

How did we do?

Depends on how much latitude you give to defining "Neutral" in this context.  The reality is the run game was a bit better this year in several respects even though the yards per game dropped.  Last year the Huskies rushed 607 times for 2,640 yards, or 4.35 yards per carry and 188.6 yards per game.  When you take sacks out of the equation, they rushed 579 times for 2,861 yards, or 4.94 yards per carry and 204.4 yards per game.  By S&P's calculations Washington ranked 68th in run offense.  This year they rushed 477 times for 2,130 yards, or 4.47 yards per carry and 163.8 yards per game.  Factoring out sacks, those numbers change to 443 carries for 2,353 yards, or 5.31 yards per carry and 181.0 yards per game.  While they didn't run the ball as much (resulting in the lower per-game numbers), they were more efficient when they did run the ball with higher per-carry numbers, and S&P agrees, ranking the Huskies 59th this year in rushing offense.

Last year the Huskies had a revolving door at running back, with Lavon Coleman, Dwayne Washington and even Shaq Thompson taking turns as the starter and Deontae Cooper getting quite a few carries as well.  This year D-Wash started the season as the starter, but by game 5 at USC true frosh Myles Gaskin had taken over the job and proceeded to put up one of the top rushing seasons in Washington history.  Even so, the staff seemed to limit his touches as he had no more than 23 carries in a game prior to the Apple Cup and bowl game.  Whether it was a philosophical shift or a feeling of greater confidence in the passing game, the Huskies were not nearly as run-heavy in their play-calling this year.

One of the pleasant surprises was seeing how effective Jake Browning was as a scrambler.  Once he won the job it was clear that the QB was not going to be a big part of the run game (remember that Cyler Miles was the 4th leading rusher last year with 307 yards), but he showed much better wheels when chased from the pocket than anyone expected and he turned a lot of potential sacks or short yardage into nice gains with his feet.

Looking ahead it's hard not to be very excited about the running game.  The Huskies entered this season with an almost entirely green OL and had 39 starts this season from true-freshmen, redshirt-freshmen or sophomores.  All but one starter returns next year and more talent will enter the depth chart after completing their redshirts.  While Dwayne Washington has opted to leave for the NFL Draft, Gaskin returns along with Coleman and (possibly) Cooper, and another dynamic runner will join the group in Sean McGrew.  This is another area that should improve next season.