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Bring Back the Running Game (RG)
Hey, coach, use the Trojans' formula for RG
By: Malamute, 4 January 2003

To bring back the running game, the Huskies should use this season's Trojan formula for success, as implemented by offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

Last season, as I remember, Troy ran for -7 yards against Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, with tailback Sunny Byrd--a cloned mixture of all the UW running backs’ DNA mixed with his hippie parent’s DNA--lugging the pigskin, along with himself, for little yardage. Ploddingly slow and hardly a whirling dervish, but nevertheless game, Byrd provided little challenge for anybody’s front four, even the Ute’s.

In the 2001 season, USC finished dead last in rushing offense in the Pac-10, averaging 95.5 yards per game. Troy finished the season 6-6.

This season, in the Orange Bowl against Iowa, which sported the number 2 rush defense in the country, SC ran for an embarrassing amount of yards, 205. And Byrd scored the last touchdown.

So, what’s the difference between this year’s Trojan team and last year’s? I'll put on my math cap; it’s the Norm Chow formula for a running game (RG),

RG = SM + JF + WJ

In English:

  1. A healthy Sultan McCullough (SM).
  2. The comeback kid, Justin Fargas (JF), who would have starred in the movie, “Tailback U,” if he could have played in the seventies.
  3. Winston “the truth” Justice (WJ), 6-6, 305, out of Polytechnic High school in Long Beach, just a freshman.

Fargas’ comeback from debilitating injuries and the play of Justice on the offensive line are phenomenal stories in themselves.

In the Orange Bowl, along with some other notable games this season, McCullough, Justice and Fargas inspired an erstwhile lackluster offensive line into achieving “greatness,” at least compared with last year’s effort for them. Indeed, football is a game of emotion, the kick in the butt kind, the kind that Bear brought to Junction, the kind that the "Big Fella" brought to Montlake.

So, how come the Trojans lost to WSU this year? Answer: The Cougars may have purloined the Trojans’ formula, out-rushing them, 201 to 72 yards. In the other loss, against KSU, El Roberson did an imitation of Marques Tuiasosopo.

QB Cody Pickett is no Tuiasosopo and can't be because of an injury to his throwing shoulder, so we can forget the power option that worked so well in the 2K season.

With 16 of 22 position players back and a relatively soft schedule after the Ohio State opener, the Dawgs have a chance to achieve some national recognition in 2003. Not playing ASU and getting USC and Oregon at home will help the conference cause.

Like USC in 2002, the Dawgs will field an experienced team in 2003, with four fifths of its offensive line returning to protect a veteran quarterback and to open holes for a senior running back, Rich Alexis, who wants to be the 18-wheeler runnin' down hill that he was in 2K.

It would be a crime against Dawgdom to have it all spoiled by a wimpy running game, especially with senior quarterback Cody Pickett roping the bulls.

To make the formula work for themselves and for 2003, the Dawgs will need a healthy Rich Alexis plus a Reggie Bush (looks like he's gone), or someone of his ilk, and a 5-star offensive lineman to add some brio to the wide bodies' push off the line.

The Montlake running-game formula may require the repositioning of some variables and the adding of a constant or two. Will offensive lineman Francisco Tipoti (pictured above), running back Kenny James, and a redshirt-freshman lineman step to the fore?

The other part of the deceptively simple-looking formula, which is missing but implicit, is Talent, with a capital T.

Holding out optimism for next season's play may lack merit. Rick Neuheisel, the NCAA's biennial bad boy, has not recruited on a level playing field in two of his four years at Washington thanks to NCAA restrictions imposed on himself and his assistant coaches. He has only himself to blame if the talent is lacking.

The 7-6 finish this season, ironically, is remarkably like Jim Lambright's finish in '98 (6-6), both coaches suffering humiliating bowl losses. Lambo ended up at Washington, 43-24-1 (64% of them wins). At this juncture, Neu is 33-16 for his coaching career at Washington (67% of them wins).

Is a paltry three-percent bonus in wins worth all the bonus money Barbara Hedges added to Neu's contract in January--$2.5 million over the next six years.

Assuming she doesn't fire him, it will cost someone $2.1 million to come in and wipe the egg off her face, if she should end up in a food fight with Neu next year because all the eggs he lays smell like sulfur dioxide. (If Neuheisel should leave Washington on his own volition before his current contract expires, he would have to repay a $1.5 million loan and provide for a $600 thousand buyout of his contract).

That aside, assuming the Huskies' running game is non-existent in 2003, will fans be interested in watching reruns of the Dawg’s 2002 hit parade? I'm not sure. 

--------------------

The Pac-10 went 2 for 5 in bowl games this season.  In all of its losses, the Pac's teams, all of which were out-rushed by their winning opponents, averaged just 39.5 yards on the ground. Frankly, I'm loath to criticize any team's defense-- especially when it plays lights out in the early going--when its offense can't run the ball and create some positive time-of-possession to give the defense a rest. You know, the KISS formula: Get the engine running first and then worry about the air bags.

Table 1. Pac-10 teams that lost in their 2002/3 bowl games and their rushing stats for the game.

 
Team Rushing Yards TOP Score
Oregon State 8 29:40 Pitt, 38-13
Oregon 125 25:26 WF, 38-17
Arizona State 17 31:27 KSU, 34-27
Washington 42 25:36 Purdue 34-24
WSU 4 22:46 OU 34-14

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