Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rose Bowl Preview: Running Backs.

Wisconsin RB John Clay. No commentary, just a cool picture.

Moving forward in our magical journey of Rose Bowl discovery, today we'll TACKLE the bread and butter for both teams, that being the ground game, natch. Like you have and will hear with their O Line, you're going to hear a lot about how daunting and bone breaking the Badgers ground game is, led by one time Heisman hopeful John Clay. You'll also hear that it's not one man show by any means, as Clay actually does not lead the team in overall rushing yards and the team had a couple of their highest outputs of the season with Clay on the bench. What you won't hear, of course, is that TCU actually has a better ground game statistically and a few guys up front who are capable of opening up run lanes against anyone in the country. But since ESPN doesn't report it, it must not be true. To the comparison!

James White14810297.066 (TD)14
John Clay1769365.34013
Montee Ball1418646.144 (TD)17

Ed Wesley16210656.649 (TD)11
Matthew Tucker1446944.8477
Waymon James834895.9285

Underinformed Analysis:

Well, that was humbling.

So as you can see, the Badgers and the Frogs are very similar in that they have three prevalent running backs who split carries pretty equally. Well, to the naked eye, Waymon James would appear to be less favored than Tucker or Wesley, but for anyone unfamiliar, James saw his playing time increase exponentially as the year went on and, had he seen the carries he saw towards the end of the year from the start, this stat would be much more even. In fact, Waymon could end up becoming our most talented ball carrier going forward, and could easily move ahead of Tucker in the pecking order next season.

But, for all my snarkiness to this point and all the likely snark going forward, those Wisconsin backs are freaking talented. As an overview, they are the 12th ranked rushing team in the country, settling in at a cool 247 yards per game. James White's size-5'10", 198- may not match the reputation of the big, bad Wisconsin running back... but fortunately for him, Clay - 6'1", 255 - and Montee Ball - 5'11", 236 - more than make up for it. And clearly White brings a speedy dynamic to the offense that has paid dividends all year as he leads the team in rushing yardage. This became even clearer in the last 4 games when Clay was either limited or did not play at all. That 7.0 yards per carry average is pretty criminal as well. Oh yeah, and he's a freshman. Have fun with that, Legends and Luminaries or whatever the shit it is they call the Big Tenleventwelve these days.

Clay was first on the team in rushing attempts by about 30, which is impressive considering the time he sat, so it's clear that, assuming he's healthy, we're going to be a mega dose of what he's offering. And while it's clear that he's definitely the prototypical Badger Back, that 5.3 yards per carry average suggests that he capable of being far more than a one dimensional, up the middle runner. His 13 TDs are more than any runner on the Frogs had all year.

And then, of course, there's Montee Ball, a sophomore who you may remember best from the time he hammered what should be the final nails in Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's coffin, rushing 29 times for 173 yards and 4 scores, then doing the exact same thing next week against Northwestern. Oh yeah, and he's only the third best RB yardage wise on this team. I mean, yikes. Just yikes.

And look at those overall numbers - all three of those guys have 140 carries and 800 yards on the year, not to mention they combined for 44 TDs. If we want to do a semi-legitimate simulation of how we can expect to fare against these guys, you'd want to look at the Ohio State game as they are 4th nationally in run defense vs. our 3rd. The results are actually pretty pleasant - the Badgers were held to only 184 yards rushing on 43 attempts... except they still scored 3 rushing TDs and won the game by 2 TDs. And Montee Ball didn't even play.


All this goes to say, I hope GP saw something he liked from the UW/Michigan State game, because that's the only time you can begin to argue a team figured out how to shut down all three of these backs; before that game, Clay had a streak of 10 games with 100 yards and a TD.
Of course, like I said above, we aren't too bad ourselves, are we? We sure aren't getting much love for being the 8th ranked rushing team in the country. Of course, a lot of our ground success has to do with Andy Dalton's dual threat ability, an aspect that I wasn't really able to include in the preview since it was solely dealing with running backs. But, it should be noted that Dalton is the 4th ranked rusher on our team with 77 carries for 407 yards and 5 TDs, compared to Scott Tolzien who finished the year with -14 yards. This makes complete sense, though, as Wisconsin runs a complete throwback, SEC type offense where the QB is solely a pocket passer and hand off specialist.

I think outsiders will look at Ed Wesley and think, "Ha, no way that guy can take a Big Ten style beating for 60 minutes!" but, despite his injuries this year, the guy is as tough and hard nosed as they come. Waymon James may be small, but he's a greased bowling ball on the field, and Matthew Tucker, although having a down year by the standard he set last year, hasn't ever been one to shy away from contact and makes linebackers think twice before going one on one with him.

But, really, it's hard to pick against Wisconsin here. I think we have more versatility with Dalton being able to take off at any time and our ability to line up Kerley in the backfield or give it to Skye Dawson on an end around, but strictly speaking of the running backs, Wisconsin is superior. For those of you who love the mad scientist aspect of Gary Patterson's preparations, this is going to be like the Island of Doctor Moreau and Young Frankenstein on crack.

Edge - Badgers.

Baseball Stuff

The National College Baseball Writers Association released their preseason All-America list yesterday, and four Horned Frogs made the list. Sophomore pitcher Matt Purke was a 1st Team selection, senior pitcher Steven Maxwell was a 2nd Team selectiona and junior pitcher Kyle Winkler and junior outfielder Jason Coats were on the 3rd Team. So if you're keeping track at home, all three members of the Frogs' weekend pitching rotation are All-Americans. Say hello to the college version of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Also, Eric Sorensen of the Easton Baseball Blog recently caught up with Jim Schlossnagle to get his thoughts on a number of things, including the upcoming season and the looming move to the Big East.

Morning Dump

Eddie Williamson living like he loves life Star-Telegram

Patterson named finalist for Bear Bryant Award

The Sporting News names Kirkpatrick an All-American

Wisconsin-TCU preview Big Ten Network

Against Dalton, Badgers face blend of Big Ten's best Badger Herald