Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rushing toward a new identity?

Wisconsin's 3-0 start to the year has not been entirely unexpected, but some parts of the Badgers' play have been. Most notable, I think you'd agree, has been the proficiency of Scott Tolzien and the passing game.

After last year's Allen Evridge-Dustin Sherer nightmare, this year's passing numbers are stunning. A 69% completion ratem, 9.2 yards per pass, 13.3 yards per catch, 226 yards per game. Great distribution to our various talented receivers. If that completion percentage were to somehow hold up, it would be the best mark in school history; the previous was 67.5% in 1993, led by Darrell Bevell.

Thing is, we're only averaging 199.3 rushing yards per game. This is only 12 yards per game less than last year's conference-leading total, and within a yard of where we were in 2007. But ...

-Take out Curt Phillips' 126 yards, and that average falls to 176 yards per game. True, Phillips' running is not a fluke, it's a legitimate facet of our offense. But it's not powerful, up-the-gut, Badger rushing.
-The per-rush average is 5.0, but take out Phillips' contribution, and the average falls to 4.76 yards per carry.
-These numbers would be just fine if we had played three BCS schools, but we didn't. We gained 258 against Wofford, when an appropriate number would have been, oh, 450.

With Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, et al still to go on the schedule, it's a safe bet that the per-game and per-carry rushing averages will decrease significantly by season's end. The passing proficiency too.

But if these trends hold to some extent, is it necessarily a bad thing? One of the things I've loved about Wisconsin football since Barry Alvarez came to Madison was the power football mentality. The big linemen, the big backs -- pound the rock! Love it.

However, our best offenses, and most often our best teams, have featured better passing teams and better offensive balance (1998 notwithstanding, sorry Mike Samuel). You don't see too many overly one-dimensional teams playing in BCS bowl games nowadays.

So I guess as long as we're gaining yards and scoring points somehow, I'll be happy. But if we could somehow get 300 yards rushing on Sparty this Saturday, I'll be happiest.

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