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By the Numbers: What OSU’s Impressive Rushing Debut Means for Big 12 Title Hopes



Against Tulsa in its season opener, Oklahoma State displayed the offensive firepower that we pined for all summer. Mason Rudolph was nearly perfect and his receivers looked the part. But it was the running game behind last year’s Freshman All-American Justice Hill and an experienced offensive line that kept the Golden Hurricane at bay and gave Mike Gundy confidence moving forward.

“We’re getting back on track to having balance on offense,” said Gundy. “You guys know that, for me, balance is very important. We’re developing a little bit of depth on the offensive line. We still have a year or two to get back to where we need to be, but we have good running back play.”

That Cowboy running game peeked its head out early in 2016 with the emergence of Hill and finally emerged from a four-year slumber in the back half of the season.

For multiple seasons, an empty cupboard at offensive line and misses and off-the-field issues at tailback meant the Cowboys had to try to manufacture balance with inventive play-calling and a running QB like J.W. Walsh — or just try to throw it over a defense’s head and hope your receivers win out-numbered battles.

Mike Gundy is quite happy with this new development.

“I like where they’re at right now,” Gundy confirmed. “The balance is going to be important. We’re not going to be able to go out and throw for 500 yards and rush for 75 and be able to win games. I thought, for the first game at least, our running game worked out well.”

While there was improvement a year ago, the Cowboys still finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing offense. What can these first-game yields tell us about  the team moving forward? Let’s take a look at a running game’s debut and how useful it is in projecting season-long success.

We’ll go back as far as 2012, the last season that OSU had a 1,000-yard rusher (Joseph Randle) before last year, and the last season it finished above fifth in the Big 12 in rushing offense.

Year Season Opener Yards Per Carry Year Average
2017 Tulsa 9.0  ?
2016 Southeastern Louisiana 3.8 4.5
2015 Central Michigan 4.4 3.6
2014 Florida State 3.8 3.5
2013 Mississippi State 7.2 4.4
2012 Savannah State 9.4 5.4

The gaudy average from last week is a bit inflated with the two longest rushing plays in the last six years by J.D. King and LD Brown. But if we take those 71- and 73-yard plays out of the mix (we shouldn’t), the average is still 5.4 yards per carry — the best since 2013’s season opener. But how important is this one number to a teams’s success? Here’s a look at the last ten Big 12 champions.

Year Big 12 Champion Yards Per Carry
2016 Oklahoma 5.4
2015 Oklahoma 5.0
2014 TCU/Baylor 5.3/4.5
2013 Baylor 5.4
2012 Kansas State/Oklahoma 4.8/4.8
2011 Oklahoma State 5.4
2010 Oklahoma 3.4
2009 Texas 4.0
2008 Oklahoma 4.7
2007 Oklahoma 4.7

The answer is that yards per carry is extremely important for success at any level of football and in any league. Even in the Big 12 who most tab as a high-flying pass-first league, it’s paramount. Offenses like Art Briles’ juggernaut at Baylor were predicated on power running. In fact, only two Big 12 champions in the last 10 years averaged under 4.5 yard per attempt rushing, and those were Texas and Oklahoma back in 2009 and 2010.

So it looks like that magic number to shoot for is a 5.0 average. With the young talent competing behind an improved Justice Hill and the dynamic passing attack to spell them, there’s no reason this group can’t get it done.

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