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Previewing Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss: Running Backs

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RUNNING BACK

Player Ht/Wt Class Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Rush TD Rec Rec Yds Rec Avg Rec TD
Baron Batch 5'11"/205 So. 111 742 6.75 7 43 442 10.28 1
Shannon Woods 5'11"/194 Sr. 135 670 4.96 12 31 330 10.56 2
Cordera Eason 5'10"/224 Jr. 137 644 4.70 3 9 73 8.11 2
Dexter McCluster 5'8"/165 Jr. 94 558 5.87 5 38 542 14.26 1
Brandon Bolden 5'11"/220 Fr. 87 434 4.99 4 8 94 11.75 1

Texas Tech

Cannot catch Baron Batch.

I earlier pointed to the fact that a big reason for this team's success was the improved play of Graham Harrell, but the play of Baron Batch and Shannon Woods has truly been the difference in this offense that much more efficient. I've been thinking about this all year, and I'm not sure that this is so much an original thought, but the rushing resurgence started with Baron Batch. Batch's play during the scout team and during the spring meant that Shannon Woods was either going to have to absolutely pick up his play or be left behind by a more talented runner. If Batch isn't pushing Woods during the spring, I'm not sure how effective Woods actually is. That's not to say that Woods' wouldn't be somewhat effective, but I think it was the competition between the two that really drove this team.

I'm pretty sure that's the definition of a man-crush.

As it was also mentioned yesterday, the blocking that Shannon Woods does, whether it's picking up a blitz or clearing the way for Batch is truly commendable. Woods is the type of guy that just likes hitting people, which makes me wonder if he was miscast as a running back, but he truly takes joy out of doing his job, which has been picking up blitzes more so than running the ball.

What stands out to me is the overall production from these two in terms of yards per rush and/or reception (i.e. touch). For the year, Batch averaged 7.68 yards per touch and Woods was on the record for 6.02 yards per touch. Consider those numbers for a minute. Each time they either ran the ball or caught a pass, both of these guys were getting 6 or 7 yards a play. No matter how you might measure the value of a player, gaining those types of yards each time you touch the ball is a testament to the offense in general, but it also says something about each of them.

Batch and Woods have accounted for 22 touchdowns on the year, which is a little less than 2 touchdowns a game from your running backs. Compared to last year, Aaron Crawford and Woods combined for 16 touchdowns for the year in 13 games. The overall increase in production is really something.

Mississippi

You're so far behind, trying to tackle Cordera Eason.

There's no question that Cordera is the leader of the rushing attack, although as you will note from the statistics above, this is a not a one-man-show for the Rebels. As a team, the Rebels rush for 183 yards a game, however, 4 players average more than 25 yards a game, including the 3 players listed above. Cordera receives the bulk of the carries, over 11 a game, however he is not much of a receiving threat. I would guess that you'll probably see Cordera on 1st and 2nd downs, but Ole Miss will move to McCluster and Bolden on third downs and as a change of pace. Cordera is the least explosive of the running backs, but he's consistently getting the ball (19, 14, 14, 17, 11 carries in the last 5 games) each and every game.

As mentioned by TechGolf44, McCluster initially started as the Wild-Hog quarterback, but due to some fumbling problems, he was replaced by Bolden. McCluster is listed as a receiver, and at 5'8"/165, he appears to be a guy who Nutt just wants out on the field because he can be so explosive. Much like Cordera, McCluster is receiving a steady diet of rushes (11, 14, 7, 14, and 9 over the past 5 games) each game and although he appears to be effective as a runner, he's even more effective in space catching the ball. McCluster is averaging 14.26 yards per reception and there's no doubt that McCluster is more effective with a little bit of open space rather than in and around the line of scrimmage.

Bolden received quite a few carries early, but those numbers have significantly decreased as of late. In August/September Bolden averaged 9.00 attempts per game, 7.00 in October, and 5.25 in November and I think those numbers would have been worse had Bolden not received 8 carries against Louisiana-Monroe in a 59-0 blow-out victory.

There's no doubt that Mississippi is a rushing team. The Rebels run the ball 60.48% of their plays, which has them ranked as the 31st team in the country in rushing. These guys can run and their quite effective at doing it. In fact Houston Nutt deserves a ton of credit for taking last year's 84th nationally ranked rushing offense and turning it into a very effective unit.

Conclusion:

I've promised myself that I'm not going to call any one of these matchups a push because that's just a chicken-S way of not putting yourself out there. The bottom line for me is how effective is each teams' set of runners, not just including rushing statistics. For the year, Woods and Batch averaged 6.82 yards per touch (2,184 total yards on 320 touches), while the combination of Cordera, McCluster and Bolden averaged 6.28 per touch (2,345 total yards on 373 touches). That's pretty damn close. If it was just about rushing the ball, Ole Miss wins it hands down, but if you add in all of those receiving yards that Woods and Batch gain on 53 less touches than Ole Miss and I've got to give a slight edge to the Red Raiders.

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