About those running quarterbacks…

This is an interesting juxtaposition:

The first thing that stands out about the chart is the number of quarterbacks leading top-25 teams. Of the top six rushers, five are leading teams that reside in the top 10 of the AP Poll and seven of the top nine are on top-25 teams. The other relevant part of the list is the ranking by passing grade of all of the top runners. Only Louisville’s Lamar Jackson ranks as a top-30 passer among the top 10 runners in the nation and only Houston’s Greg Ward, Jr. joins him in the top 30 if expanding to the top 20 rushers in the nation. Yet those quarterbacks are still leading potent offenses based around their ability to run the ball, and in many cases, their passing stats look great due to the number of easy throws created within the system, even if the passing grade that accounts for timing, accuracy, and decision-making doesn’t match those stats.

The reason these offenses are prolific without having great passers is because college ball in the spread era is all about the numbers.

The running game comes down to simple mathematics. Once the ball is handed off, 11 players on defense are deployed to stop 10 players on offense, everyone has a gap to play, and in theory, there should be an extra man available to tackle the ball-carrier. The running quarterback has changed the math in defensive football as he essentially evens up the game and the threat to run the ball makes it 11-on-11, negating the defense’s advantage. Coaches have found creative ways to use this in their favor, having quarterbacks “option” off unblocked defenders, “blocking” them out of the play without actually using a blocker. This is old hat by now as offenses have taken this concept to new levels every season with new ways to option off different players, combining it with misdirection and motion, or adding in “run-pass options” which are running plays that have the ability to become a pass based on how one or two players react to the run action at the snap. Oh, and then coaches decided to add an up-tempo element to all of these concepts, essentially making defensive players react to all of these moving parts quicker and while fatigued.

When you add all of this up, it’s very difficult to play defense in college football today and because it’s so difficult, it no longer takes a precision passing game to move the ball down the field. Just having a quarterback that can challenge the defense as a runner creates open rushing lanes for running backs and wide-open passing lanes for quarterbacks as the defense simply tries to keep up with the multiple options presented on any given play.

That doesn’t mean you can’t play elite offense with a throwing quarterback.  It just means that you’ve got a bigger margin for error when a defense has to account for that extra runner.


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

15 responses to “About those running quarterbacks…

  1. The threat of a running QB is as powerful as one who actually does run a lot. Although DJ didn’t look to run first when he became the starter, his ability to create plays with his feet forced teams to account for him on every play. That threat typically opened up the middle of the field between the linebackers and the safeties. He would take apart defenses with the tight end in the seam and with wide receivers in the intermediate passing game. DBs that jumped those routes would see the ball go over their heads for big plays. That 2005 team was a damn good football team.


  2. Biggen

    I’m beginning to get the sense that it will be increasingly more difficult to win a NC with a drop back pro style passing QB.


    • Macallanlover

      +1 And if the rule makers don’t find some changes to help balance the game we will be stuck with watching a higher percentage of games with 75+ total points, definitely a strong move toward “basketball on grass”. I have no desire to return to the old style SEC/Big 10 days of 13-10 type games as the norm but the defense needs to be thrown a little love or we are looking at a younger version of Arena Football. No question, more offense has improved the game and grown the audience but the pendulum has swung too far.


  3. 92 grad

    I’ve been feeling the angst among us, and many “reporters” cite the Alabama “evolution” with their offense. People like to make the conclusion that running qb will be necessary to keep up with the trends.

    I say, pro style is also very difficult to defend, impossible actually with the right players. The real issue is getting the roster right. Statistically, building a roster that can play option/rpo/spread can be done easier than having a pro style roster, which needs elite WR, TE, OL, AND QB, RB.

    Tough debate. If I were Kirby, I would pay bobo whatever he needs to come back and continue with the work he was doing with his pro style/pistol speed and power schemes


  4. doofusdawg

    bama vs. michigan will once again show that the big ten can not keep up with the speed of the sec. But we should have good big ten matchups in the music city and outback bowls the next three or four years. Some thing go in cycles and some things never change.


  5. Ubiquiotus GA Alum

    The RPO rules in college must change … OL blocking downhill 3 yards past the line while the QB decides to run or throw it up top is insane.


  6. Will Trane

    Bet no one at Alabama is whining about their offense. Maybe at Ohio State they are , after all they were beaten by Penn State. OSU lost because of special team failures, and execution in their offense. Sorta reminds you of the Dawgs. Bama beat a run focused A&M team because they could defend Knight, the running QB and a 5 year player.
    But the Georgia culture is to whine because they do not have solid roster and their QB is not Tom Brady in Smart’s pro-style.
    How many of those kids in the SEC, especially in the state of Georgia, come from high school teams that run the spread or half spread. Way past the majority. They saw it on offense and they saw it on defense. So it is nothing new to them. Even the pros use it.
    Articles like this are garbage.
    Some high school coaches limit the running of their QBs even though they run the spread.
    The spread can be defended. Not only do the Xs and Os come into play but the player matchups. Reason the refs allow the defense to sub.
    There is nothing wrong with RPO. And it can be defended. Logic says that. If could not that would be the only play you would see.
    Even in a pro-style you can run up tempo. Not the Dawgs on a large scale because of Oline depth and execution. Skilled players not so much an issue. Doubtful if any O line starter for Georgia would be a starter at 60% of the other SEC teams.
    You can only scheme so much, or at times over scheme [Vandy game].
    When you are mid way thru your schedule, and you have lost 3 of your last four …well there is a lot to evaluate, change, improve, and throw out. But four games is a longtime for a course study, except lane assignments and fielding KOs and punts. Apparently the issue for the Dawgs there is more than practice or a coach, most likely personnel. Same for running the ball.
    Remember 2 of those three loses they could have pocketed as wins. Running QB was not the total answer.
    Perhaps running off the AD would help.


  7. W Cobb Dawg

    I’d argue it takes too long to develop the prototypical drop back QB – with UGA as a prime example. Let’s face it, you need a QB that can throw darts and read defenses. And if a QB can do that the nfl will be beating down the door for him (unless its an undersized guy). Seems to me a team is better off with a dual threat QB. They can be more aggressive on O from day 1. On-the-job-training for a drop back QB takes quite a while, and usually that training is a painful process.