Season Grades: Run Game

Bishop Sankey was a godsend for the Washington Huskies in 2012, much in the same way UW leaned heavily on Chris Polk to anchor their ground attack. It's hard to fathom Sankey being a bigger part of their run game this year than Polk was in a monster 2011 effort, but it's true.

The Good - Sankey's 1234 yards - top-10 all-time at Washington for a single-season - accounted for 75 percent of UW's rushing totals, up a percentage point over Polk's 1488. No one would have ever thought that was possible heading into 2012, as Sankey was used as a nice change-of-pace back but would never be able to match Polk's output as an every down back. Polk also had Jesse Callier to help mix things up when he needed a quick rest, but he still took a greater percentage of the carries (65 to 62 percent) than Sankey. But Keith Price was a much more effective quarterback in 2011 than 2012, so you can make a statistically convincing argument that while Polk had the bigger rushing year - it was Sankey who really kept things going offensively with his consistent play, doing much, much more than anyone thought he was capable of or expected in his second year after only carrying the rock 28 times as a true frosh. But even Ka'Deem Carey - who leads the FBS in rushing right now - accounts for only 63 percent of Arizona's run game, while Oregon's Kenjon Barner's 1624 yards is only 42 percent of the Ducks' run attack. UCLA's Johnathn Franklin holds a similar percentage to Carey, with his 1506 yards representing 64 percent of the Bruins' ground tally, and his counterpart at Stanford this weekend - Stepfan Taylor and his 1364 yards - constitutes 65 percent of the Cardinal ground game. But no single back comes close in the Pac-12 to matching Sankey's importance to his team - not any of those guys or Utah's John White or Oregon State's Storm Woods or USC's Silas Redd or Colorado's Christian Powell - and he did this all behind a makeshift offensive line that featured a number of new players, as well as a quarterback that had some pretty big ups and downs during the course of the season. It was supposed to be Sankey leaning on Price for support, but it quickly became the other way around.

The Bad - The fact that the Huskies had to rely on Sankey so heavily. Fortunately Sankey's running style is such that he doesn't square up often and take a lot of direct hits. Lucky for UW, that meant he was not only incredibly productive, but durable. And he had to be, much like Polk. But at least Polk had two other backs in Callier and Sankey to spell him at times; Sankey wasn't really afforded that option. In fact things were so bleak mid-season in UW's attempts to find another running back to help share the load they pulled receiver Kendyl Taylor from his natural position out wide and put him behind Price. His first action as a running back was against Stanford in Week Four, and by the end of the season he was Washington's second-leading rusher with 207 yards on 34 carries, which means when he was asked to tote the rock he did so effectively. The three freshmen - Taylor, Erich Wilson and Dezden Petty - combined to run 91 times for 464 yards overall. Just to compare, Keith Price ran 62 times, and obviously a vast majority of those were just scrambles. That means UW carried the ball 13 times per game on average beyond Sankey's runs. Again, compare that to another Pac-12 team like Oregon, who ran the ball on average 33 times beyond their leading running back's carries (Barner), and you can tell just how much UW relied on Sankey. After crunching the numbers, it's clear that UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian saw the frosh as simply stop-gap measures between Sankey carries, as opposed to an integrated part of the run attack. It was basically Bishop Sankey or nothing.

The Ugly - What happened to Washington's run game? The Huskies had the fifth-worst ground game in the Pac-12 behind Washington State, Colorado, Oregon State and Utah - but they had a chance to be really good in 2012. So where did it all go wrong? Basically in fall camp when Deontae Cooper re-injured his knee and had to use another season of eligibility in his quest to play college football. And then in the first quarter against San Diego State when Jesse Callier was tripped up by the Turf Monster and suffered a season-ending knee injury. Add to that the complete non-existence of production from the fullback position - Jonathan Amosa had no carries and Pio Vatuvei fumbled in his only attempt at Oregon - and it all conspired to limit UW's ground game to the point where they finished 90th in FBS Rushing Offense. And when you add Keith Price's very average body of work throwing the ball, it's no wonder the Huskies were so inept offensively in 2012.

The Grade: B-. Let's be clear; Sankey gets an A for what he was able to do in 2012, and while a lot of people would give the UW Offensive MVP award to Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Kasen Williams I would give it to Sankey. Fair or unfair, ASJ and Kasen's play kind of cancels each one out; remove Sankey from UW's run attack and you basically have nothing. But the run game can't just be about one person, and the Huskies just couldn't manufacture any other run game outside of Bishop and it really showed up. Taylor started to come around and show his versatility, but as a true freshman learning two positions it was a little unfair to heap a ton of expectations on him. Since the run game and play-action passing go hand-in-hand, this grade also suffers from the fact that Price just didn't do his job well enough to give the running backs more room to run. Statistically the run game was worse than the pass game compared to the rest of the country, but I feel they actually out-performed the quarterbacks by nearly a full grade, not only based on pre-season expectations but also based on how the position was affected by injury.
Season Grades: Quarterback Top Stories