Friday, April 4, 2008

Why Tech's RB is Important

The Hokies are looking for a new running back during Spring Practice. Senior running back Branden Ore was dismissed from the team March 19, meaning the Hokies will have a new starting running back for the first time since 2005 when Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes split the duties.

I believe the coaches will again split duties until incoming freshman Ryan Williams is ready to take over the full-time starting job. This could be anywhere from four games to two seasons in my estimation. If Williams is as good as Hokie fans want him to be, he could be THE GUY by the Nebraska game. However, if he has trouble adapting to college ball and the Hokies scheme, like many freshman, he may night see significant time on the field until the 2009 season.

The two-headed running back approach has worked for the Hokies in the past, no more so than when they had both Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones in the same backfield. It was a good problem to have. The way many top programs are operating in today's college football world is to have a bruising running back who can go between the tackles and a quick and shifty change-of-pace back who can cut to the outside if necessary.

Whatever Tech decides to do at running back, its important for the offense to have a stable ground attack early. The Hokies struggled on the ground early last season and had trouble dominating games. And history shows just how important it is for the Hokies to own the lines of scrimmage.

A lot of the following also has a lot to do with Tech's defense, as you'll see. The defensive unit is also going through a lot of changes, especially at linebacker. Those issues also need to be addressed early because when Tech out-rushes its opponent, it usually wins.

This is covered in by the fine folks in the Tech media relations department. Tech's record when it out-rushes its opponent is almost always listed early in the weekly game notes. But, we can also dig deeper.

Since joining the ACC in 2004, Virginia Tech had out-rushed its opponent in 39 of 53 games (73.6 percent). In ACC games alone, Tech has out-rushed its opponent in 25 of 34 games (73.5 percent). The high success rate is not based on Tech's typically weak non-conference schedule. However, this last season, the Hokies did out-rush their opponent in all nine games against ACC opponents and were out-rushed by ECU and LSU in non-conference play.

And when Tech out-rushes its opponent, it tends to win. Since 2004, Tech is 36-3 (92.3 percent) when out-rushing its opponent. Two of those losses came in 2007, to BC in Blacksburg and Kansas. Before the LSU game, the only loss Tech had when out-rushing its opponent in the ACC era came in the first game of the era, in 2004 against USC. Against the ACC, Tech went 24-1 (96 percent) when it out-rushed ACC foes.

The Hokies went 31 games without losing in games they had more yards rushing than their opponent.

Record When Out-rushing the Opponent
2004: 8-1 (88.9 percent)
2005: 10-0 (100 percent)
2006: 8-0 (100 percent)
2007: 10-2 (83.3 percent)
Total: 36-3 (92.3 percent)

However, when the Hokies are beaten on the ground, the results typically aren't pretty. Since 2004, Tech is 6-8 (42.9 percent) when it is out-rushed, with three of those losses coming in bowls. The Hokies were 2-3 (40 percent) when out-rushed by non-conference opponents. Those wins came against Kent State in 2006 and ECU in 2007.

Record When Out-rushed by Opponent
2-2 (50 percent)
2005: 1-2 (33.3 percent)
2006: 2-3 (40 percent)
2007: 1-1 (50 percent)
Total: 6-8 (42.9 percent)

As you can see, a key to the Hokies' winning percentage is their ability to out-rush their opponent, particularly against the ACC. If the Hokies are going to defend their ACC Championship, they need to find a dependable ground attack early. Spring and Fall Practices will be especially important for finding a running back rotation that works.

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