At times when I have important things to be doing, I instead feel an urge to spend my time working on something completely unnecessary. So I decided to look back at last Saturday's game at Vanderbilt to see what exactly is going on with our running game.
(By the way, you can watch all SEC games from this season at the SEC Digital Network website)
I wanted to see how our different running plays have worked with each back. For example, we've seen a backwards toss play very frequently this season, as well as the traditional handoff, and handoffs from a shotgun formation. So I watched every single running play of the entire game and tallied which play was run and who ran it.
Here are the results.
(Note: I'm not counting fullback runs in this)
Washaun Ealey (#24)
Total: 13 carries for 71 yards
Tosses: 3 for 38 yards
Handoffs: 9 for 29 yards
Shotgun handoffs: 1 for 4 yards
Caleb King (#4)
Total: 5 carries for 14 yards
Tosses: 3 for 13 yards
Handoffs: 2 for 1 yard
Shotgun Handoffs: 0
Richard Samuel (#22)
Total: 6 carries for 18 yards
Tosses: 4 for 5 yards
Handoffs: 2 for 13 yards
Shotgun handoffs: 0
Carlton Thomas (#30)
Total: 6 carries for 27 yards
Tosses: 2 for -2 yards
Handoffs: 1 for 7 yards
Shotgun handoffs: 3 for 22 yards
Dontavius Jackson (#27)
Total: 3 carries for 38 yards
Tosses: 2 for 34 yards
Handoffs: 1 for 4 yards
Shotgun handoffs: 0
All Running Backs
Total Yards: 168
Tosses: 14 for 88 yards
Handoffs: 15 for 54 yards
Shotgun handoffs: 4 for 26 yards
These numbers alone lead me to a few conclusions:
1. The coaches have tried to pinpoint the strengths of each back in order to figure out which plays work best for them. For instance:
- Carlton Thomas with his quickness is a good fit for shotgun handoffs (and 3 of 4 shotgun handoffs in the game went to him). The toss play doesn't seem to work well for him.
- Washaun Ealey is the most "rounded" of the backs, as he ran all 3 types of plays and did relatively well with each type.
- Caleb King is our other "rounded" back, but he excelled most at screen passing plays.
- Richard Samuel primarily played in toss plays, which failed miserably. But on only 2 direct handoffs, he gained 13 yards.
- Dontavius Jackson is a bit of a mystery still, because we only saw him in a clean-up role with the game almost over.
2. I've had some problems with the apparent "backwards toss" plays we've been running, but we saw some mixed results in the Vanderbilt game.
While Ealey and King both did well with the tosses, Samuel's didn't work at all. This could be attributed to his running style, and perhaps when he's in the game we should focus more on direct handoffs.
But with a closer look, the tossing plays in general may not have been that great.
The longest run of the day was a 33 yarder off a toss by Ealey. The general philosophy is that when you keep doing the same thing over and over again, someone will eventually break free for a big gain. Ealey did that, but is that a sign that the toss play is working to perfection, or is it just more of an anomaly? Think back to Richard Samuel's 80 yard run at Arkansas. Was that a sign that he's the best back we have and should be our starter for the season?
So if we, just for fun, take away Ealey's 33 yard toss play, he'll have 2 tosses for 5 yards. And if we also take away Jackson's clean-up time numbers, we end up with something like this:
Total Yardage: 97 yards
Tosses: 11 for 21 yards (1.9 yards per carry)
Handoffs: 14 for 50 yards (3.6 yards per carry)
Shotgun handoffs: 4 for 26 yards (6.5 yards per carry)
I feel like the tossing plays can work with perfect blocking (as any play can), but we're simply not getting it most of the time. It looks like the direct handoffs are much more consistent in earning yards, while the shotgun handoffs look to be deadly if run with the right back (Thomas and maybe Ealey).
So let's see why these toss plays haven't been amounting to much consistently.
First, the basics.
On a basic handoff from the quarterback under center, our RB's are receiving the ball about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
While on those backwards tosses, they usually get the ball about 7 yards back, near where they stand before the play starts.
It's assumed that this extra distance isn't supposed to be a detriment to our offense, but rather to give the blockers time to make their blocks and the backs time to see them and find the holes. Only problem is, the blocks haven't been working so well, especially on the offensive line. Below is a toss play to Samuel, where you can see the defensive front already making its way through our line just as Samuel gets the ball (7 yards back).
Luckily, Samuel manages to slip a tackle from a lineman.
But thanks to starting back 7 yards deep and missed blocks, he has no where to go and is tackled for a loss.
The toss play just isn't as consistent right now in our running game as it should/could be, but it shouldn't be phased out of our playbook either. It can be effective with the right back and good blocking (see: Ealey 33 yard run) but it usually doesn't do as well as a direct handoff, partially as a result of the 2 extra yards deep that the back starts with the ball. Personally, I would like to see us try a more "lateral" toss to the outside, with the back already in motion and offset from the quarterback, maybe receiving the ball only 3-5 yards behind the line of scrimmage rather than the 7 that is customary in our "backwards toss" plays.
But the real conclusion is this: We've got a great stable of backs, but things just haven't been clicking consistently between their play and the blocking. We'll continue to struggle running the ball if we can't get everything to work right at the same time. Let's hope we get that figured out soon.