- Rushing yards per attempt by running backs: 4.27
- Sacks allowed: 6
- Quarterback hurries allowed: 14
COMMENTS: The grade might seem a tad harsh, but when you go from last year's grade -- is there anything lower than an F? -- to this grade, it represents substantial improvement.
Still, it's hard to get a good read on this unit, since the Cougs have played, defensively speaking, one middling opponent (Stanford) and two not good opponents (Hawaii and SMU). However, there is no doubt that the offensive line is more physical up front than it was a year ago. They've shown that they can actually push some people around from time to time -- even the Cardinal -- and it has resulted in that improved yard-per-attempt figure in the rushing game. However, 4.27 yards still isn't great.
The fact also remains that this just isn't a very athletic group, a trait that was exposed in full force by Stanford in the opener while the team was forced to repeatedly throw the ball to catch up. They're better than last year -- the Cougs are no longer having to keep two tight ends and a running back in just to keep their quarterback upright -- but this unit still just isn't very good at protecting the passer. While SMU didn't register a sack on Saturday, Marshall Lobbestael was under duress a fair amount of time (eight hurries), and Hawaii registered half its sacks for the season (three) against the Cougs.
HOW TO IMPROVE THE GRADE: It's not going to be easy. Guards Zack Williams and B.J. Guerra were a large part of the reason the line was able to be more physical in the running game, and both are out for the time being with teams like USC, Oregon and Cal coming up on the schedule. And if they can't run the ball, they'll be in passing down and distance ... and we know how that usually turns out. It's imperative that the makeshift line currently in place step up its game.
The key could be redshirt freshman left tackle Tyson Pencer, who will make his first start on Saturday. He's precisely the kind of athletic lineman Paul Wulff has been coveting, and if he can do a better job neutralizing pass rushers than his predecessor, Steven Ayers (who moves inside to guard), the whole line gets better.
Bottom line? These guys need to provide a serviceable running attack over the next three games while giving their quarterback a shot to actually find someone downfield.