Stat Session: Urban's Running Backs

By Chad Peltier on May 21, 2012 at 4:00p

This week's stat session is the first in a short series detailing different position groups from Urban's teams at Florida. The idea is to give a breakdown (light on math, actually) of how Urban's Florida teams differed from Ohio State at the position-level so we have a better idea of what to expect. 

I wanted to start off this series with Urban's running backs because of the relatively high amount of debate surrounding how they will be used, how many carries they will get, and what they will physically look like. 

For instance, the excellent Florida blog Bourbon Meyer wrote Buckeye Nation a "What You Should Know About Urban" piece and had this to say about tailbacks: cautious about how excited you get about any running back that Urban recruits and signs. Urbs won a lot of games with Florida using the running back as a tool, but either never used the tailback as a feature in the offense or never recruited a 20+ carry per game guy.

There has been a lot of discussion (read: fear) amongst the 11W commentariat about whether this is true. Why not actually take a look and test these questions ourselves? 

I took a sample of the running backs on Urban's Florida rosters between 2006-2010 that had at least ten carries in a season. I also included "pivot players," which are designated as either RB/WR or ATH on the official UF rosters. 

Notably, this sample of running backs leaves off walk-ons and Tebow, who admittedly was a huge part of the running game. If you'd like to see the list, here it is. 

Do Urban's Running backs receive as much as they run?

Many fans seem to think that most new running back recruits will end up being pivot backs - sometimes in the backfield, sometimes in the slot - more than running up the gut. It turns out that this definitely is not so - it's actually fairly rare for a running back to also be a consistent receiver. 

My dataset is coded such that each running back-year is a separate data point, meaning that Percy Harvin receives an entry for each year he had more than ten carries. Of these 22 running back-years, only five times did a running back have over 200 receiving yards. 

Furthermore, Percy Harvin is responsible for three of those instances (years with 427, 858, and 644 receiving yards), with Brandon James and Chris Rainey each with one year at over 200 yards each. In contrast, Brandon Saine had 225 and 195 receiving yards in his final two years here. 

Are Urban's Running backs all small and quick? 

Of the backs currently on the Ohio State roster or committed for 2012/13, there's a clear division between the small and quick guys - usually pivot players - and large power backs. It's easy enough to divide Jordan Hall, Warren Ball, and Ezekiel Elliot on one side, and Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, and Bri'onte Dunn on the other. 

Of Florida's players, four out of nine backs were pivot players between 2006 and 2010 (or an average of about two per year). 

An Urban favorite - track star running backEzekiel Elliot, of the Jordan Hall-mode

Only three different players weighed over 200 pounds or were what we would traditionally think of as power backs, however - DeShawn Wynn, Kestahn Moore and Emmanuel Moody. Moody wasn't really a powerback either, but just a bigger running back, and the other two were holdovers from the Zooker days. 

From the Bourbon Meyer article: 

Florida just graduated his two best tailbacks: Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. Combined, they likely weigh less than Jake Stoneburner.  Don’t believe me? Florida’s two best “running backs” in Meyer’s tenure in Gainesville were a Quarterback (Tebow), and a Wide Receiver (Percy Harvin).

So, yeah - the majority of Urban's running backs at Florida were in fact under 200 pounds, even the non-pivot players. 

However, I'm not entirely convinced this pattern will hold here at Ohio State - just look at how hard Urban recruited Bri'onte. It wasn't just so he could sit on the bench. Furthermore, he has offers out to Derrick GreenCorey Clement, Jonathan Hilliman and Jonathan Haden, all bigger guys. 

The reason Meyer never recruited many >200 pound running backs is because he didn't need to - he already had a powerback by the name of Tim Tebow. It's not that Meyer's offenses never used bigger running backs, it's just that often the best one was also the quarterback. 

However, Braxton simply is not the same type of runner at Tebow. Meyer's offense at Ohio State will need bigger guys like Hyde, Smith, and Dunn for plays like inside zone. The point is that Meyer wants different and versatile players in his offense. Having smaller and shiftier Braxton at the helm opens the door for bigger backs to get their carries. 

Does urban not have any feature backs?

Besides wondering whether he'd have a place in Meyer's offense, Bri'onte was almost pulled to Michigan with the promise of becoming their feature back - the guy who averages close to 20 carries a game and 200 per year, and who breaks the 1000 yard mark rushing.

1000 yards on 200 carries equates to a nice average of 5 yards per carry. Florida's backs under Meyer, however, were regularly pushing 6.5 to 8 yards per carry, including Harvin's ridiculous career average at over 9 yards per carry. The secret? They did so on less carries, with more backs toting the rock each game. 

Florida's backs under Meyer each average just about 6 carries per game, and only twice did a back have over a hundred carries in a season (DeShawn Wynn in '06 and Kestahn Moore in '07). Contrast this with Ohio State, where Beanie had ~67% of the carries in 2008, and where there has been a back with over 200 rush attempts in every year save for the '09 campaign. 

This is to say that Urban does spread the ball around more, but each back typically has a significantly higher average yards per carry too. 

In short, most of the stereotypes about Urban's running backs were at least somewhat true - they're typically a bit smaller, there are pivot players, and he spreads the ball out to more backs - but that isn't a bad thing, nor are these trends necessarily going to continue at Ohio State. It's difficult to stress how unique Tebow and Harvin in particular were and how much the offenses reflected their specialized abilities. Urban has consistently added wrinkles to his offense each year based upon his personnel, all under the same spread principles. 


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Ethos's picture

UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH the season can not get here soon enough

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

ShadyBuckeye's picture

Yes it really does need to get here. We should have football year-round. Maybe move the nfl so that it starts in february instead of ending in february??? lol that would be awesome. why cant they do it anyway?? a weather issue? Eff it, lets just buy each team a dome so weather isnt an issue. it'd be worth it to have football every single weekend:)

tankman's picture

Lets just concentrate on beating Purdue for Gods sake!

tennbuckeye19's picture

As 'not good' as we were last year, I still can't believe we lost to Purdue. And to think we've lost to them 2 out of the last 3 years. Thats freakin UNREAL. I would think beating Purdue shouldn't be an issue in the future. Payback is a female dog.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Chad, you nailed it. I'm confident Urbz and company will make the best use of the personnel. Urbz would love to have a dominant power back, but he's not going to just dogmaticaly feed a mediocre powerback 180 carries because he believes in power football for its own sake.  
Utah 2004's top three rushers: powerback, Marty Johnson (225 lbs) ran 165 for 802 yds (4.9 per carry), 14 TDs; low-gravity guy, Quinton Ganther (5'9, 214 lbs) chipped in 109 for 654 yds (6.0 per), 2 TDs; and that was with a good running QB, Alex Smith taking 135 carries for 631 yds (4.7 per); 10 TDs.
His first two years at FLA, the reality was Deshawn Wynn and K. Moore were decent talents, but nothing special.
As Chad mentions, by 2008, they had so much ball-carrying talent, it was best to disperse the carries - Tebow, Rainey, Demps, Harvin, and E. Moody. In 2009, Harvin was gone, but the other four remained. In either of those two years, Rainey or Demps easily could have run for 1,000+ if necessary.
2010 was a transitional year.
Believe me, though, if - say - Brionte turns into a monster, he'll get the ball a lot. Not as often as Javon Ringer, because Urbz ain't that stupid, but plenty enough. 

Bucksfan's picture

Yeah, I'm in the "who cares?" camp when it comes to how many times a running back is going to receive the football.  You know what I like?  Points.  Lots and lots of points.  And I like less points for the other team.
However Urban Meyer gets those things to happen is fine by me.  I refuse to be like a Florida fan that criticizes a 2-time national championship coach because he didn't put a feature back on the field.  They will literally find a way to nitpick every single thing that Urban Meyer ever did at Florida.  So ungrateful that it makes me sick.  A great deal of the NFL teams are doing RB-by-committee these days.  It's too much to ask one guy to take that kind of punishment on 20 downs a game.

thorvath22's picture

Our very own Ohio State fan base is the same way....don't worry we will have complaints about Urban Meyer too in 3-5 years.,...I mean we found a way to complain about Tressel didn't we?

biggy84's picture

Keeping a steady supply of fresh running backs seems to be the Urbz strategy. The climate, conference and region, will dictate a lot i would think, of the need for bigger backs here. People also don't realize that at UF, Urbz had a ton of teams in his own backyard to fight over recruits with. 

Bucksnut13's picture

I do not understand the infatuation with the bigh running backs. Too slow to make anyone miss. Id rather have four small and lightning quick backs like meyer had at florida who would rotate in and out a lot and then would be able to run as hard as they possibly could. Four running backs who run their hardest will break a lot more tackles (as well as make defenders miss) than one big back who has carried the load the entire game. I am so excited to see jalin marshall, brax, and ezekiel in the same backfield.

It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog

cbusbuckeye's picture

Were you living under a rock during the years Beanie was running over defenses? He might not have been shifty but that stiff-arm caused more than a few nightmares and you couldnt call the guy slow.

Bucksnut13's picture

Give me harvin over beanie wells anyday.

It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog

703Buckeye's picture

Harvin and Wells are completely different types of players. I'm sure Urban would have done extremely well with either of them.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

cbusbuckeye's picture

Harvin is a great talent, but when its 4th and 3 you want a guy who can run over a few people.

Bucksnut13's picture

or just use an inside shovel pass where the defenders cannot touch the back. Tressel never went for it on 4th and 3 with Wells. Meyer used tebow (baby rhino)

It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog

cbusbuckeye's picture

Tebow was not a "small lightning quick back". All im saying is when you need those tough yards you want a bruiser (for Meyer this was Tebow) who can go out there and run through the d-line if the hole isnt there.

thorvath22's picture

No team has EVER won a National Championship with only 4 guys that run a 4.2 40 and no power running game...however teams have won without 4 runningbacks that run a 4.2 40.

Balance is well as using the talent you have to the best of their abilities....based soley on the spring game I say Rod Smith is the best at getting those 3-5 tough yards...he won't break anything 50+ but is a consistent downhill runner (if he can hold onto the ball)...I still do not see a player on this team that can break the 6-8 YPC average. I hope J. Hall can be that guy but I haven't seen the evidence yet....I say Dunn is the closest there...and Hyde seems to be the safest choice.