State of the Hogs: Run vs. Pass

Statistics can be used to make your case in lots of different ways. Even when they lead to an obvious conclusion, some just say, "Statistics are for losers." And, there is some truth to that.

I can be overwhelmed by numbers. I tend to prefer quotes over stats in my stories. I figure there is a stat page somewhere for those who really like to study them.

However, there are times when it is fun to dive into stats. I did that this week, after receiving some data via email from a friend. I think he hoped that I would use the numbers to launch a campaign against the current coaching staff.

Instead, after studying the numbers, I figured out that this staff is perhaps headed the right direction with its decision to pass less and run more. My thinking is that you better go with what you do best. The stats don't lie. Arkansas runs it a lot better than it passes it.

This Arkansas team is working hard this week on becoming a better passing team.

But the simple truth is that the Hogs might be better served to stay the present course of concentrating on the run.

I'm going to throw some numbers at you and you can decide what to do with the data. Those that don't like Houston Nutt's offense will take it one way. Still others might decide that the Hogs are doing what's best with their current personnel, mainly a quarterback who struggles with the vertical passing game.

Most fans look at stats a little differently than coaches. The fans look at per game team averages on total offense. They want to know what a team averages per game with the rush and what they average passing.

For example, the UA averages 389 yards per game on offense, third best in the SEC. That breaks down to 256 via the run, 133 passing. It's that 133 via the air that makes some mad. It's a low number. They want more passes. They want more chances down the field.

But is that the way to go? Maybe not. Should they pass less, not more?

There's a stat that coaches rely on more heavily than the per game averages. They look at per play averages. When you study those numbers you wonder why the Hogs pass at all.

Arkansas is a great running team. You knew that already. But did you know that the Hogs average 5.7 yards per running play? That's an amazing stat. Of the top eight rushing teams in the NCAA stats this year only Southern Cal really does a lot better than that. The Trojans, with the seventh best per game running attack, average 6.4 per rush. Minnesota, the nation's best running team, averages 5.6 and number two Memphis averages 5.8.

That probably doesn't surprise you that much. You probably already knew that the Hogs were doing well in that area since Darren McFadden's per rush average is 7.9 and Felix Jones is close by at 7.1. For comparison, LSU's Joseph Addai is leading the SEC in running, but averages just 5.0. What you probably didn't know is that the Hogs average only 5.3 yards per pass. That is dead last in the SEC.

Almost never does a team average more per run than per pass. Running it well ought to set up big per play averages in the passing game. You might not pass it often, but when you do, it ought to be for big plays.

I couldn't find another Arkansas team that averaged more per run than per pass in the Arkansas media guide and I looked all the way back to 1947. It just doesn't happen often. For example, Minnesota averages 5.6 per rush, but 7.6 per pass. Navy, another solid running team, averages 5.4 per run and 10.0 per pass. Air Force is at 4.5 per run, 8.8 per pass.

I looked at some recent UA teams, both good and bad on offense, to see what they've done in that regard to per play averages between the run and the pass.

The 1987 team featuring Quinn Grovey in the wishbone averages 4.2 per run, 7.5 per pass. That team set the school record for number of rushes. The 2003 team with Matt Jones set the school record for first downs. It averages 5.0 per run, 8.0 per pass.

The 1992 team with a variety of quarterbacks that struggled to score points averaged 2.7 per run, 5.0 per pass. Clint Stoerner's 1998 team averaged 3.9 per run, 8.3 per pass. The 1964 national champs averaged 3.7 per run, 6.5 per pass. The 1997 team that sold out to the pass averaged 1.8 per run, 6.4 per pass.

UA assistant Roy Wittke, the quarterback coach, agreed that the 5.3 per pass is a low number. As the passing game coordinator, he's not happy with that statistic at all.

"There are several things you look at when you are deciding if you are a good passing team," Wittke said. "They figure pass efficiency with yards per pass, completion percentage and also the touchdown/interception ratio.

"But one of the most important stats is the per pass average. If you are good, you are going to be above 8.0. At Eastern Illinois with Tony Romo, his numbers were 8.0 or better for most of three years. The year he led the nation in pass efficiency his yards per pass stayed between nine and 10 yards."

Wittke coached Romo and helped Jones become a better passer over his four-year Arkansas career. "Matt's numbers got better and better each year as far as per pass averages," Wittke said. "One thing I look at now is Robert Johnson's percentage. It's not awful. It's been around 58 percent. You'd like to get it to 65 percent, but the yards per attempt is awful."

Some think that the Hogs have gone to the underneath routes with the backs and tight ends too much this year. Wittke said it's not been by design, but because of the way they've been defended.

"If they take the safety and double Marcus Monk, you can look at the top route with Marcus, but you are going to end up going to the underneath route because that is the one that's open," Wittke said. "It's not that we aren't trying to get it over the top. But if that is what they are doubling, you better take the underneath route.

"One of the thing we haven't done well at early this year was yards after the catch. One thing that helped against Georgia was that we did get some yards after catch."

It showed in the numbers, too. The Hogs did better than their season averages in the passing game with a mark of 5.8 yards per pass. That beat the 4.4 yards per rush.

So did the Hogs run the ball too much against Georgia? Probably not.

"It was a case where we decided to rely on our strength more and less on our weakness," Wittke said. "That doesn't mean we don't want to improve our weakness. We are working hard on our passing game during this open week."

Some of the Hogs successes in the running game have been because of the ways safeties are double covering Monk. He may have the best hands in the league and is the Hogs' best threat. It makes sense for the Hogs to run the ball to that side when the safety can't help because he's cheating to Monk.

"Very true," Wittke said. "I've been surprised that the safeties haven't come down harder on our running game. But as long as they are playing pass and doubling Monk, we'd be crazy to leave the running game."

None of this is probably going to change any minds about what they want as far as offense from the Hogs the next four weeks. Those that favor more passes are still going to stick to their guns.

Mark Richt, the Georgia coach, noted that Nutt "stayed true to his running game" last week at Athens. I suspect that a few more coaches are going to be saying the same thing after the next four weeks.

My conclusion is simple. Coach Nutt, stay true to your running game. Until Mitch Mustain arrives, it's the best weapon you've got.

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