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Tuesday, June 23, 2009
How sacks skew rushing statistics in college football

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

This pains me to write this, but the NFL actually does something better than college football.

I've always been a college apologist, for obvious reasons. The color and pageantry of Saturday football far outstrips the professional counterpart. And the style of play, in my opinion, is just better with college football.

But I will admit that the NFL does one thing right. They have separated the sacks from rushing statistics, providing a truer picture of how a team is running the ball or stopping the run.

It's harder to do this in college football because the statistics are skewed when losses caused by sacks are included in rushing statistics. And it doesn't really show a true picture of a running the ball or stopping the run.

Take Texas A&M, which had trouble protecting the quarterback last season. The Aggies averaged 2.9 yards per carry, but those statistics were limited because the Aggies also led the conference in sacks allowed and yards lost in sacks. When those numbers are removed from the rushing total, the Aggies then averaged 4.2 yards per rush.

The Aggies' inability to protect the quarterback shouldn't detract from their running backs' rushing averages.

There are two distinctly different skills that are being measured in running the ball and protecting a passer. And they shouldn't be lumped together.

The same goes for defense. Texas led the conference in rushing defense, allowing only 1,086 yards last season and 3.1 yards per carry. But the Longhorns clearly benefitted from the nation's most fearsome pass rush, a unit that led the nation with 47 sacks and 383 yards in losses because of those sacks.

But that doesn't mean the Longhorns were the best team in the nation at controlling opposing offenses' running games. They had moderate success against the run and swelled those numbers with a mammoth number of sacks.

When those sack numbers are added back to Texas' defensive rushing statistics, the Longhorns allowed a pedestrian 4.8 yards per carry -- a difference of 1.7 yards per attempt. They led the conference in fewest rushing yards allowed, mainly because opposing teams passed against them because they were most often behind.

But that 4.8 yard-per-carry average actually ranks seventh in the conference. And the conference's best team in stopping the run when sacks are removed becomes Baylor, which limited opposing teams to 4.1 yards per carry.

It's not something I write very often. But college football needs to take a page from the NFL in how it figures rushing statistics.

Here's a look at Big 12 rushing statistics from last season -- both with sacks included and removed from the totals.

Big 12 Rushing Statistics: Offense
Team Att. Yds. Avg. Sacks Yds Att. Adjusted Yds. Avg.
Oklahoma State 582 3,191 5.5 16 95 566 3,286 5.8
Oklahoma 589 2,779 4.7 13 95 576 2,874 5.0
Baylor 481 2,349 4.9 28 191 453 2,540 5.6
Nebraska 486 2,207 4.5 21 128 465 2,335 5.0
Texas 508 2,177 4.3 26 179 482 2,356 4.9
Missouri 417 2,153 5.2 15 90 402 2,243 5.6
Iowa State 403 1,661 4.1 19 111 384 1,772 4.6
Kansas State 408 1,590 3.9 16 134 392 1,724 4.4
Kansas 445 1,648 3.7 31 230 414 1,878 4.5
Colorado 440 1,494 3.4 29 213 411 1,707 4.2
Texas Tech 317 1,532 4.8 13 113 304 1,645 5.4
Texas A&M 365 1,062 2.9 39 296 326 1,358 4.2

Big 12 Rushing Statistics: Defense
Team Att. Yds. Avg. Sacks Yds Att. Adjusted Yds. Avg.
Texas 356 1,086 3.1 47 383 309 1,469 4.8
Oklahoma 469 1,627 3.5 42 292 427 1,919 4.5
Nebraska 418 1,514 3.6 35 269 383 1,783 4.7
Kansas 407 1,600 3.9 26 191 381 1,791 4.7
Missouri 510 1,748 3.4 32 250 478 1,998 4.2
Oklahoma State 414 1,792 4.3 15 92 399 1,884 4.7
Baylor 463 1,655 3.6 21 152 442 1,807 4.1
Texas Tech 457 1,825 4.0 34 199 423 2,024 4.8
Colorado 456 1,995 4.4 23 165 433 2,160 5.0
Iowa State 436 2,158 4.9 17 111 419 2,269 5.4
Kansas State 502 2,612 5.2 20 119 482 2,731 5.7
Texas A&M 507 2,631 5.2 16 02 491 2,733 5.6