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Interactive Preview: Keeping the running backs involved

Will the dynamic trio of Earth, Wind and Fire get enough second half touches to put their imprint on this week's game?

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

When looking forward to the 2015 season, I was really excited about Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks, Keith Harrington and the Cougar rushing attack. Morrow had the most yards of any returning player on offense, Wicks showed a ton of potential and we’d heard about how explosive Harrington was during Thursday Night Football as he redshirted.  With a veteran-laden offensive line, I was expecting to see a ton of production from that group. During spring ball when Morrow mentioned they were considering calling themselves "Earth, Wind and Fire" I knew they were primed for huge things.

Once the season got rolling it seemed like there were flashes of production, but not enough rushing attempts to see what their full impact could be. Coming into the game vs. Oregon, WSU was averaging 15 rushing attempts in the first half and only 7 in the second. Those numbers include sacks, so they’re inflated if we’re trying to gauge how often Falk is handing the ball off.  For reasons unknown, Mike Leach was all but abandoning running the ball in the second half.  After only 5 carries by Morrow, Harrington and Wicks in the first half (at 7.8 yards per carry) vs Oregon, I was worried that with the Cougs behind we’d see next to nothing from the running game in the second half.

Thankfully, they got into their groove in the second half and piled up yards. The WSU running backs had 15 rushes in the second half alone and piled up 176 yards on the game, good for the best rushing performance of the Leach era. The chart below shows the change in first half to second half carries and yards per carry on the year. I can’t strip out sacks when looking at situational data, so the rushing attempt numbers are inflated and the yards per carry deflated. You can filter by conference or select a set of teams from the drop downs. The slider bar will let you move back and forth from the first to second half. The yards per carry only changes by a half yard and we’re right around UW and Cal in first half running attempts, but we fall off a cliff in the second half.

My concern is how far not only their rushing attempts drop off in the second half, but also their touches in general. The chart below shows takes their touches (receptions + rushing attempts) and looks at the change half to half. The X axis shows their yards per touch. Morrow’s second half yards per touch is helped by his bananas second half against the Ducks.

The top of this view breaks out their rushing and receiving totals on the year. The bottom of the view looks at what % of their runs go for 10+ yards and what % of their receptions go for 15+ yards.  Wicks has been the bell cow we thought he could be, especially in the first half, but as holds true for Harrington and Morrow his overall touches really drop.  If you hover over the bar you’ll get a pop up with their yards per carry and reception for each situation.  Given how explosive Harrington is and his lack of total touches in the second, I wonder if he struggles to hold onto the ball in practice as well and Leach doesn’t trust him in late game situations.

Oregon State is giving up 5.84 yards per carry (includes sack data) in the second half vs 4.52 in the first.  The biggest reason I hope that Harrington can find a cure for fumbleitis is the Beavs give up a run of 10+ yards on 11.7% of their opponent’s rushing attempts in the first half, but that number spikes to 30.1% in the second half.

After two fourth quarter comeback wins, "Kool and the Gang" could be an apt nickname for Luke Falk and the receiving corps. Hopefully Earth, Wind and Fire get going early and keep it going late so that the homecoming focus is celebration vs nail biting.