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