Monday Analysis: The Running Game

Against Oklahoma State, the Longhorns were effective running the ball. At least, until they stopped doing it with 11:20 left in the fourth quarter in a two-score game.

Afterward, Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said that the Longhorns went away from the run because the Cowboys were packing guys into the box and he felt like Texas could potentially get a big play by testing one-on-one matchups on the outside. It sounds great in theory, right? It didn't work, and the Longhorns failed to score any offensive points the rest of the way in a 38-26 loss.

So in today's Monday Analysis, I decided to take a look at the Longhorns' running game for that contest. More specifically, I listed out every run by a Longhorn running back (more on this below) in every possible situation. If you're familiar with these analyses, you know that long situations (as in first-and-long) means anything seven yards or longer. Medium is 4-6 yards to a first down or conversion and short is three yards and less.

For this series, we've also defined "effective carries", which are designed to measure the effectiveness of a play. We're always told that four yards per carry is good. But when you get a carry on second-and-15 and take it for four yards, it's not nearly as good a carry. Likewise on the opposite situation. A two-yard carry on first-and-10 is considered poor. A two-yard carry on third-and-one is a conversion.

So an "effective carry" is defined as a carry that gets you to your primary goal. Specifically, on first down, it's getting to a second-and-medium situation. On second down, it's getting to third-and-short. And on third and fourth down, it's a conversion.

First-and-long: 17 carries, 111 yards (three first downs, two touchdowns, nine effective carries)

Second-and-long: Five carries, seven yards (no first downs, no effective carries)

Second-and-medium: Two carries, seven yards (two first downs, two effective carries)

Second-and-short: Four carries, 44 yards (three first downs, three effective carries)

Third-and-long: One carry, three yards (no first downs, no effective carries)

Third-and-medium: One carry, 10 yards (one first down, one effective carry)

Third-and-short: Two carries, 22 yards (two first downs, two effective carries)

Totals: 32 carries, 204 yards (11 first downs, two touchdowns, 17 effective carries)

As always, before going into a statistical analysis, it is pertinent to list the potential faults within said analysis.

This was designed just to track the carries of running backs, though in several instances, running backs didn't receive the ball on a simple handoff out of the backfield. Fozzy Whittaker had four carries out of the Wildcat, He carried twice on first-and-long, gaining minus-two yards on one carry and two yards on the next. He had more luck on third downs, carrying once for 10 yards on third-and-medium and once for 11 yards on third-and-short. Both of those were effective carries. And D.J. Monroe had one carry that came on a reverse, a first-and-long tote of 21 yards, an effective carry. I counted all of those runs above because they came in the hands of primary runners, while most of quarterback David Ash's runs came on scrambles, and Jaxon Shipley's two carries came as more of a change-of-pace.

And while the metric listed above is typically a great way to do it, there were times that the Longhorns probably achieved their objectives with runs, but it didn't count as an effective carry. The two Malcolm Brown second-and-long runs cited above are a perfect example of this. Both were probably meant mostly to achieve a more makable down-and-distance. So Brown's six-yard run on a second-and-15 helped in that area (though the Longhorns fell short on third-and-nine), and his five-yard run on second-and-10 put the Longhorns into a more friendly third-and-5 (Texas did convert there). The other carry that could be flopped in that regard is Whittaker's three-yard run on third-and-long. At that point, near the end of the half, the Longhorns were simply trying to run the clock and get to the locker room. So the point is that while I list 17 effective carries, you could technically make an argument for 20.

Given that, it's a bit shocking that the Longhorns went away from the running game, specifically getting the ball to the running backs. Texas had just three negative carries on its first down rushes all game, meaning the Longhorns were just as likely to produce a first down on a first-down running play as they were to be stopped in the backfield. And on more than half of their first-down carries, the Longhorns had effective carries, meaning four or more yards.

Also, look at the success that the Longhorns had at running on third down. Three times, Texas ran the ball on third-and-6 and shorter. And all three times, the Longhorns produced a first down. It kind of makes you wonder why, facing a third-and-goal at the 3, Texas elected to throw the ball on third and fourth downs.

But the overall bottom line is that the Longhorns were effective at running the ball over a broad range of plays in a broad range of situations against one of the top five teams in the country. That the Longhorns didn't continue to utilize that strength in that same game is now a matter of the past. What we can take from this in the present is that the Longhorns have that ability, and that it can be used to help protect the Longhorns' younger quarterbacks. And that's most certainly a positive.

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