The role of the running game in an Air Raid offense

Bear with me, this is a rough, in-progress look at the role our running game has played in the past and a question of what role it should play in the future. I feel that we should start with finding out what has worked and what hasn't worked in the running game so we can, as an inconsequential online entity, point out the direction that we feel Mike Leach should take in the further development of the running game. Yes, I say we because I'm hoping for input. Most of my thoughts on the matter are anecdotal (though I suppose I could look up old game footage, I'm not going to do that right this instant), so feel free to correct me and I will adjust.

First, I'd like to characterize our running game as of last year: a few draws, but mostly off-tackle handoffs out of the shotgun, what amounts to running the zone read without any of that read part. A majority of the handoffs go directly up the middle, what I see as either a homerun or a 2 yard loss if the runningback can't avoid the end that's come to get him. There was a set with two TE's that often managed to pick up a couple of yards, but it never seemed to get quite the push needed to pick up consistant yardage.

Now, of course, I'm going to tell you the 2 reasons why I think that was:

1) There is next to no motion on the line. Run blocking last year was very similar to pass blocking. The idea of standing your man up and not letting him get to the running back is a great though, but it doesn't open up any running lanes. A scheme that pulls a guard, runs the defense along itself (in a zone blocking scheme), even one that has a fullback leading the way will open up running lanes. I remember that one of the most consistent plays last year was the "student body left/right". Everyone's going one direction and at some point there's a cutback lane for the running back.

2) No misdirection. This can really be 2 part: basic runs without fear of counters or delayed draws or the like; and absolutely no play action. The first is pretty self explanatory. The second you may ask why play action would help the running game. With the lack of play action, a defense can read run as soon as they see the quarterback go for the handoff. The linebackers can attack the line at will or stuff up the mid-field passing lanes without having to make a choice between run and pass.

There's the one claim I think I can back up with statistics. I hope I'm not the only one that remembers talk in 2004 (I think it was some tv announcer in our opening game) about the addition of play action to the playbook. And true enough, I remember a much greater presence of play action during games. That year, our top two running backs gained the most yardage in the modern leach era (Henderson had more yards individually in 2005, but he and Mack combined for more the year previous. Yards per carry were down in 2004 vs 2003 and 2005, though. Not sure how to explain that except to point out that yards per carry were way down in 2007).


Ok, so much for part 1 of this running game look. I think next time, if there is one, I think I might look at touches vs running game as an indicator of success. Part 3 would be thoughts about what sort of running mentality might work with the Air Raid.

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