Who gets and stops explosive rushing?

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
4:00
PM ET
Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

We looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- on Tuesday and defenses that prevented explosion plays on Wednesday. Today we look at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. On Friday, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.

So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in the running game in 2010.

4. Oregon... 39
25. Stanford... 21
29. Washington... 20
29. UCLA... 20
49. USC... 16
49. Utah... 16
66. Arizona... 14
66. Arizona State... 14
83. Oregon State... 12
91. California... 11
91. Colorado... 11
99. Washington State... 10

Not many surprises here, though Oregon State's and California's totals might seem low, considering the quality of their tailbacks: Jacquizz Rodgers and Shane Vereen.

Some other thoughts.
  • Oregon ranked second in 2009 (39) and third in 2008 (37). The Ducks, Nevada and Georgia Tech each ranked in the top five the past three seasons.
  • California ranked 18th in 2009 with 24 runs of 20 or more yards, and eighth in 2008 with 30, so its drop-off in 2010 was substantial.
  • With Toby Gerhart, the 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up, Stanford had 20 runs of 20 or more yards. Without him in 2010, it had 21. That said: In 2008, when the Cardinal went 5-7 and Tavita Pritchard was the starting QB, it produced 25 such runs, which ranked 12th in the country.
  • In 2008, UCLA and Washington State tied for 109th in the nation with just six explosion runs. In 2009, Washington State had 10 and UCLA nine, thereby ranking 95th and 98th, respectively. While the Bruins new pistol offense didn't help the passing game, it certainly helped produce explosion plays in the running game, more than tripling the 2008 output and more than doubling what was produced in 2009.
  • Buffalo ranked last in the nation with just two runs of over 20 yards, the worst total over the past three seasons. Nothing to do with the Pac-10, but that's really, really pathetic.

But do piling up explosion plays in the run game correlate to winning? Short answer: More often than not, though a lot has to do with scheme (Georgia Tech and Navy, for example, run triple-options and don't pass much). Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Georgia Tech... 45 (6-7)
2. Northern Illinois... 42 (11-3)
3. Auburn... 41 (14-0)
4. Oregon... 39 (12-1)
5. Nevada... 38 (13-1)
6. Nebraska... 36 (10-4)
7. North Texas... 32 (3-9)
8. Mississippi... 31 (4-8)
9. Baylor... 30 (7-6)
10. Tulsa... 28 (10-3)
10. Navy... 28 (9-4)

Three teams -- including No. 1 -- posted losing records. On the other hand, seven won nine or more games and six won 10 or more.

Now, on to defense, starting with the Pac-12.

The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of rushing explosion plays yielded in 2010.

2. Arizona State... 6
13. Arizona... 9
13. Utah... 9
13. California... 9
37. Oregon State... 12
45. Stanford... 14
59. Oregon... 16
82. Colorado... 18
90. USC... 19
98. Washington... 22
103. UCLA... 23
117. Washington State... 29

Arizona is a bit surprising because the Wildcats struggled against the run this season, particularly over the second half of 2010. Stanford is a little low because it gave up four runs of 20-plus yards in its loss to Oregon.

Some other thoughts.
  • Oregon State's number isn't bad, but in 2009 it was tied for fourth in the nation -- and No. 1 in the Pac-10 -- after yielding just six explosion rushing plays.
  • Oregon had better defensive numbers this season than in the previous two, but the Ducks gave up only nine explosion rushing plays in 2008 and 2009.
  • This is clearly an area where Washington struggles. In 2009, it gave up 21 explosion rushing plays (102nd in nation) and 22 in 2008 (102nd in nation).
  • Washington State yielded 22 rushing explosion plays in 2009 (106th in nation) and 34 in 2008 (worst in the nation) Cougars: You need to get better here.
  • In 2008, Tennessee gave up just one run of 20 or more yards. No other team over the past three seasons has yielded fewer than three. In 2009, under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, it gave up 21, which ranked 102nd in the nation. This past season, while Kiffin was in his first season at USC, the Vols yielded 16, which ranked 59th, tied with USC. In 2009, the year before Kiffin arrived at USC, the Trojans yielded 13, which ranked 42nd. Just saying.
  • While a number of teams are consistently good in this area -- Ohio State, Florida and South Florida, to name a few -- only Iowa ranked in the top 10 the past three seasons.

But do limiting rushing explosion plays on defense correlate to winning? Short answer: Not as much as you'd think, at least this past season. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Iowa... 5 (8-5)
2. Arizona State... 6 (6-6)
2. Boston College... 6 (7-6)
4. Purdue... 7 (4-8)
4. Iowa State... 7 (5-7)
4. SMU... 7 (7-7)
4. Florida... 7 (8-5)
4. Ohio State... 7 (12-1)
9. Temple... 8 (8-4)
9. Michigan State... 8 (11-2)
9. Buffalo... 8 (2-10)
9. Wyoming... 8 (3-9)

That's six teams (out of 12) at .500 or below, including two teams who combined for 19 losses. Just two teams -- Ohio State and Michigan State -- won double-digit games. Oklahoma went 12-2 despite giving up 25 rushing explosion plays, which ranked 109th in the nation. Heck, Kansas State finished 7-6 despite giving up 31 such plays, worst in the nation.

That said: Seven of the 12 teams that gave up 25 or more explosion plays finished with losing records, and four won three or fewer games.

Ted Miller | email

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

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