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Are We a Rushing School?



NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Arizona

Photo Attribution: US Presswire

Since Harry Birdwell (okay, Boone Pickens) ushered in the Gundy era in 2005, the OSU offense has changed identities several times. We’ve seen some of the best offense in college football under Gundy’s reign. Let’s give the coaching staff a pass on the awful 2005 season. Since then, the offense has finished outside of the top 20 in total offense only one time (2009). Even more impressive, the offense has finished in the top 7 in total offense on four occasions.

Okay, so we’ve seen some good offense. What I think is more interesting is how our offensive philosophy has changed during that time period to fit the talent we had at the time.

Look at the chart below. It looks a little busy, but it’s pretty simple. Three categories: OSU, the Big 12, and the NCAA. I took the rushing plays for each season and divided them by the total offensive plays for the season.


The NCAA average for rushing plays / total plays has remained fairly constant at 54% over this time period. The Big 12, as you would expect, has been more pass-heavy than the NCAA as a whole. But we really care about what OSU has done over this time period.

Larry Fedora ran the offense from 2005 to 2007, and he clearly believed in establishing the run. This was when we were going through the Pena/Reid/Robinson mess at quarterback, so I don’t blame Fedora for handing off to Dantrell Savage as much as possible. As you can see, we ran the ball significantly more than the Big 12 and NCAA average.

Gundy took over in 2008 when Fedora took off for Southern Miss. Robinson was well-established at quarterback and Dez Bryant was ready to have his breakout season, but Gundy turned to the ground game (Hunter & Toston) more than any other season in his era. It worked well — Gundy had the #6 offense in the country that year and no one seemed to mind when he was staring at a playbook when the defense was on the field.

Until 2009.

Dez got suspended and Kendall got hurt. The offense was in shambles — we finished at #70 in total offense and had two of the worst offensive performances in recent history with a shutout loss in Norman followed up by a near-shutout loss to Ole Miss in Dallas.

Gundy made @pistolsguy the happiest future blogger on earth and called in Holgorsen. He completely overhauled the offense and was lucky enough to find a guy with a huge arm to run it for him.

In 2009, only K-State ran the ball more than we did. In 2010, only Texas Tech threw the ball more than we did.

Monken realized what he had with Weeden and Blackmon and doubled down on the pass. Only two seasons removed from running 62% of the time, we threw the ball 60% of the time last year, 7th most in the country.

That brings us to this year and our latest “overhaul.” We’re running more than we have in the last two seasons, but I don’t think we really know what Monken wants to do with Wes Lunt. He threw the ball 11 times in the opener, then we got behind at Arizona and had to throw it a million times to stay in the game. With a true freshman quarterback and a strong backfield, I would guess we’ll see a few more running plays this year. Even though Monken was in Jacksonville when Zac finished his career at OSU, it will be interesting to see how closely the play calling resembles the old Zac-era offense.

One more thing. Notice how the Big 12 has seen more rushing in 2011 and 2012 — almost at the same rate as the NCAA as a whole. I wonder if the league defenses have become so focused on defending the spread offense that they have become more vulnerable to the run. According to Football Outsiders’ S&P ratings, half of the current league had top 20 rushing offenses in 2011 (it’s too early to get accurate rankings this year). Are we seeing a subtle shift back to running in the Big 12?

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