To Establish the Run, It Helps to Run

The struggles of the FSU running game have been much discussed. And there's no doubt that the offensive line and the running backs have not performed well in creating an effective run game. They need to do better.

But one of the things that has struck me since re-watching the Oklahoma game last week and then watching the Clemson game on Saturday is how little commitment Jimbo Fisher has had to establishing the run game. I decided to look back at the play-by-play's posted for both games at and see if my perception about a lack of commitment to calling run plays matched up with reality. In my view, the answer is yes. Especially in the Clemson game when you consider that FSU played with a freshman QB making his first start on the road with a heavily banged up WR crew against a less imposing defense than that presented by Oklahoma.

Here's what I found:

Clemson Game:

I only included the first eight drives, all of which started in the first three quarters. By the time FSU's 9th drive rolled around they were down by 11 and time was starting to be a factor in the 4th quarter. This is about whether Jimbo Fisher tried to establish the run when he had a chance, so I don't want the need to go to the air later in the fourth quarter to skew the results.  

On their first eight drives, FSU had 19 opportunities in 1st down situations. They ran it 7 times (37%) for 26 yards.

On the same eight drives, FSU had 11 opportunities in 2nd down situations. They ran the ball 3 times (27%) for 9 yards.

FSU ran the ball just 33% of the time on early downs.

Great numbers on those run plays? By no means no. But also not so atrocious that it was necessary to shut the run game down completely.

If the goal is to have a run-pass balanced offense, then I would expect to see the 1st down running greater than 50% and the 2nd down running right around 50%. Certainly there are situational things that can affect the play-calling, but there's no evidence I have seen that FSU was forced by circumstance or opposing scheme to so heavily abandon the run early in the game.

The team is struggling in the running game, no doubt. But part of the reason the team is struggling to establish the run game also has to be that Jimbo isn't really trying all that forcefully to establish the run game. It is fine if Jimbo thinks that FSU's passing game is so good that he wants to maximize pass opportunities, or if he thinks opposing defenses are heavily loaded to stop the run and that's the problem. But Jimbo has been pointing out the need for FSU to run better, and has indicated it is an execution/performance problem. FSU has not been running very well, but they also have not been running very much. In my opinion, both things need to change.

Was this a one-game quirk for FSU?

Oklahoma Game:

It wasn't much different against Oklahoma.

On FSU's first 10 drives against Oklahoma (reflecting all their drives until Oklahoma went up 23-13), FSU ran the ball 36% of the time on 1st and 2nd downs (38% on 1st downs; 33% on 2nd downs). So roughly the same percentage of runs, albeit Oklahoma was generally even more stout against the run than Clemson. I'd be more inclined to dismiss it as a one-game thing owing to Oklahoma's defense if the number wasn't so close to what happened in the Clemson game against a less imposing defense.


We're likely to see FSU run the ball more against the likes of Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland, NC State, Boston College and Virginia because...well, because those teams appear to suck (I mean, Maryland was absolutely physically whipped by Temple).

The question is how the FSU running game will perform against Miami and Florida. In the next few weeks I hope FSU works on improving their run game success. But when the Miami and Florida games roll around, I hope Jimbo gives the run game more of an opportunity to be successful on early downs in those big games.

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