The Big Board: FSU's running game

In July, optimism comes easily -- particularly given the depth of talent Florida State has on its roster this season.

But as ESPN's ACC blogger Heather Dinich points out in her "Hope and Concern" series, not every area of the Seminoles roster is filled with firmly established stars.

While EJ Manuel could be one of the ACC's top quarterbacks, and FSU has perhaps the deepest stable of receivers in the nation, the running game is a huge question mark.

A year ago, Florida State finished 10th in the ACC in rushing offense, averaging just 112 yards per game on the ground and 3.3 yards per carry. Add spring injuries to Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman and the level of concern only builds.

But dig a little deeper into the numbers, and perhaps there's some room for optimism, too.

For one, college football rushing statistics are often skewed because yardage lost on sacks is included in rush totals. Given that FSU's offensive line struggled in protection last season, the Noles' rushing stats took nearly as many hits as their quarterbacks did in 2011.

No ACC team lost more yardage on sacks than Florida State (290), so when we factor that out and count only rushing plays into the scenario, the stats look a bit more palatable.

FSU rushing stats (not including sacks)

  • Attempts: 396

  • Yards: 1,748

  • Yards per carry: 4.41

  • Yards per game: 134.5

Those numbers were still below average in the conference, but factor out Georgia Tech's gaudy numbers (that triple option also skews averages) and FSU's 4.41 ypc is actually just a tick below the rest of the league (4.50 ypc).

That's not good, but it's not a disaster either.

The other reason for optimism in the running game is the offensive line.

Sure, question marks still remain about how well FSU's young line will hold up this season, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which 2012 is worse than 2011.

And when we look at the Seminoles' rushing struggles last season, a sizable portion of the blame may rest on the shoulders of the big boys up front.

As a general rule, the linemen opens up space around the line of scrimmage with their initial push, while the running backs are responsible for making the most of the space they're given after the first yard or two.

Not surprisingly, Florida State was about 6 percent more likely to have a run stuffed within three yards of the line of scrimmage compared to the ACC average. In other words, in a game in which FSU runs the ball 30 times, it would have two more of those runs stuffed for little or no gain than the average team. As the offensive line improves, the backs should fine a few more holes, and once they do that, FSU's runners are actually pretty good.

Rushes longer than 3 yards:

  • FSU: 165

  • ACC avg: 228

Percentage of those that went for 7+ yards:

  • FSU: 59.3%

  • ACC avg: 52.8%

Statistics courtesy ESPN Stats & Info

In other words, Florida State runners didn't make it past those first 3 yards nearly as often as the rest of the league, but when they did, they were far more likely -- about 13 percent more likely, to be specific -- to break a long run.

Of course, none of those numbers take into account the fact that Thompson, Freeman and James Wilder Jr. all missed the bulk of spring, nor do they guarantee the O-line will take a dramatic step forward in 2012.

But what the numbers do show is that FSU's running game probably doesn't have as far to go to be effective as most people think. So if the veterans can get healthy or Mario Pender makes a quick transition, there's more than enough talent to turn an average run game into a solid one in 2012.