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Just Run the Ball

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If the Cowboys don’t even attempt to run the ball, how will we ever know if the running game has improved?

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Oklahoma State Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all heard that one of Oklahoma State’s main weaknesses is their offensive line. We saw it first hand in 2015, and so far, it doesn’t seem to be much improved this season. This has been part of the reason the Cowboys have struggled to run the football. Along with the offensive line, the running backs in general couldn’t seem to make any plays on their own last season. Coming in to 2016, there are some familiar and some new faces in the backfield, but in the first game against Southeastern, no one really stood out among the rest.

So, I thought to myself, surely after two games this season, we will have a slight idea of who is going to stand out as the lead back this year. But, what we saw in the Central Michigan game was the Cowboys decided to completely abandon the running game. The OSU running backs combined for 15 attempts on the ground…. 15!?!? How are we ever going to find out if we have some semblance of a running game this year if we don’t even run the football.

Head Coach Mike Gundy had this to say about getting away from the run game against CMU:

Okay… so it didn’t work last year, that doesn’t mean it for sure isn’t going to work this year. Why abandon it so early?

If you can’t have a balanced attack on offense, it’s tough to be an elite team, much less win games (but, I’m still blaming the refs).

I wanted to take a look at our rushing attempts over the first two games of this season and all 12 games (I’m including the bowl game) from last season. Listed below are the five games with the fewest rushing attempts as a team in that span, so this includes Mason Rudolph, J.W. Walsh, the running backs, and anyone else who had a rushing attempt in a game:

  • BU - 23
  • CMU - 26
  • TCU - 26
  • KSU - 27
  • OU - 29

The bold items are games that OSU lost. From 2015 to now, the Cowboys have lost four games: Baylor, CMU, Ole Miss and OU. As you can see above, three of those games made the bottom five… And, if you were wondering, the Ole Miss game is number six.

But what I wanted to do is take a look specifically at the running back rushing attempts. I didn’t agree with the coaches’ decision to abandon the running game against CMU, and I wanted to know if the stats were there to back it up.

The numbers below include only rushing attempts made by a Cowboy running back in the same time span as above. Again, these are the five games with the fewest rushing attempts:

  • BU - 11
  • UM - 14
  • TCU - 14
  • CMU - 15
  • OU and KSU - 17 (tie)

All four losses made the list this time.

As the Tulsa World’s Mark Cooper pointed out in a recent article:

“Cowboys running backs received just 15 carries in the 30-27 loss to Central Michigan. They gained a respectable 4.2 yards per rush, but the problem was not their production. It was their lack of opportunities.”

The lack of opportunities… that lies with the coaches. Now, if the coaches give the line and the backs the chance, and they don’t perform, I’m sure I’ll be the first one to say “Just throw the damn ball!”. But, I think that you have to give them a chance. You can’t let last season’s rushing woes dictate how the offense runs this season without at least experimenting. OSU is currently 95th in the nation is rushing attempts for the season out of the 128 FBS programs.

Justice Hill has shown some good signs. Chris Carson looks to be running more aggressively. We know what Rennie can do, and Carr and Sanders bring different styles to the table. To win college football games at a high level, you have to have some resemblance to a balanced offensive attack, and right now, the Cowboys do not. Running the ball can open up so much more in the passing game for this offense. Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich was able to get around the lack of the run last year, but that didn’t always work out as we saw towards the end of the season.

Even Gundy is saying that these guys need more carries (from the above linked article):

“Gundy said Justice Hill needs to touch the football more than his five carries. Gundy wishes Rennie Childs could have gotten more carries than the single touch he received in the fourth quarter. Gundy likes Carson’s attitude, and Carson did lead the team in carries, even if it was only eight.”

Well, let’s make it happen then, Coach! It will be a tough task this weekend against Pittsburgh as the Panther defense has given up only 2 yards per carry and less than 65 rushing yards rushing yards per game in its first two games. Even with these stats, the Cowboys have to include the running game in their strategy and force Pitt to show they can stop it.