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Nuking Neu for last season’s rushing attack?
Ground game should improve in 2002
By: Malamute, 13 July 2002

Rich Alexis, photo courtesy of dawgman.com During his first two years as a head coach, Rick Neuheisel’s Huskies averaged 201 yards on the ground. Last season his team averaged 112-yards per game rushing the ball. Does Neuheisel lack the wherewithal to develop a strong rushing attack, as some Internet posters suggest?

For the sake of argument, if coaching is the reason, then the Huskies’ offensive coordinator and running backs' coach might have had more to do with the poor running game last season than Neuheisel.

In reality, the loss of Marques Tuiasosopo, so effective at running the option, hurt the Huskies last season; his replacement at quarterback, Cody Pickett, suffered a shoulder separation during the fourth game of the season and the option was more or less kept at bay.

However…

Four/fifths of the Husky offensive line needed replacing last season and most likely is the major reason for the drop-off in rushing statistics 

And…

In 2001, the Dawgs' rushing stats were skewed downward by three routs on the road suffered against OSU, UCLA and Miami, where they averaged 58-yards rushing per game—the bane of a young team testing unfriendly soil. The lack of a running game on the road led to the routs, which is the point of illustration.

Note, also, that the Huskies were credited with -8 net yards rushing against UCLA, a game in which quarterback Taylor Barton underwent a baptism of fire due to Cody Pickett's shoulder injury, which he suffered the week before. At that point in the season, the Bruins were on a roll and the Huskies were on a downer. 

Has Neuheisel failed to recruit a top-notch running back as head coach at Washington?

Well, he sealed the deal on Paul Arnold, who many expected to be the next Cory Dillon. That was before it was discovered that Arnold suffers from a congenital back problem and couldn't be used at tailback. And the Huskies came so close to getting Lorenzo Booker last recruiting season, and, but for some last minute shenanigans, would have had him. However, Neuheisel managed to sign two highly regarded running backs, Kenny James out of Fresno and Shelton Sampson out of Tacoma.  

Is it getting harder to run the ball in the Pac-10? There are more tough teams in the league to run against now, and the 85-player scholarship limit makes it harder to keep the pipeline full of offensive linemen. Parity has turned a few have-nots, such as OSU, Cal and WSU, into formidable opponents. More tough games translate into fewer yards on the ground than in the past. As an example, Notre Dame rushed for 17 yards against Oregon State, a bucolic beaver turned coyote ugly, in its Fiesta Bowl (2001) loss, 41-9.

Over the last three years, the Huskies' opponents have lacked scintillation on the ground. The stats below don't include bowl games.

Rushing yards per game (UW and its opponents)

Year UW Opp
1999 190 141
2000 212 142
2001 112 163


Here’s how the Huskies rushed against their opponents last year (2001). Finishing next to last in the conference in rushing (regular season only), the Huskies rushed poorly last season, some at home and some on the road.

Opponent Yards Place
Michigan 69 Home
Idaho 212 Home
California 115 Berkeley
USC 174 Home
UCLA -8 Pasadena
Arizona 83 Home
ASU 188 Tempe
Stanford 130 Home
OSU 82 Corvalis
WSU 79 Home
Miami 98 Miami
Texas 151 San Diego

This upcoming season, after the Michigan game, look for Neuheisel to turn his running game up a notch, using better offensive line play and an array of running backs—Kenny James, Rich Alexis, Chris Singleton, Braxton Cleman, Shelton Sampson—to improve on his record over last season.

The signs are there.

Coaches will tell you it is harder to teach young linemen to block for the run that it is to teach them to block for the pass. In the Holiday Bowl against Texas, the Huskies rushed for 151 yards, a sign that the running game was beginning to develop. Texas was sixth in the nation in rushing defense when the Huskies played them, and prior to that game, had allowed just 89.5 yards per game on the ground.

According to Willie and Al (the unlikely duo of Shakespeare and Davis), regardless of how victories are done—whether by land, sea or air—after all is said and done, after the hurly-burly is lost or won, Rick Neuheisel is 26 and 10 as a Dawg, and what should matter to all is the best stat of all: “Scoreboard, Baby!” J

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