What Can the Texas Tech Rushing Attack Achieve in 2018?
What can the Texas Tech rushing attack achieve in 2018? Best case scenario? A lot.
In a pass-happy system (allegedly) at a school like Texas Tech, there's very little expectation for the running game to be great. Which is why I want to get in on this early.
The 2018 Texas Tech football team will have a Top 40 rushing attack in 2018, while maintaining a dangerous passing attack.
It would be the first time back in the Top 50 since 2015, and will feature Tre King, Da'Leon Ward and the quarterback. (Obviously, this statement is more confident if Jett Duffey is the starter, but McLane Carter and Alan Bowman would both add to the rushing attack in their own way.)
While this might seem wild and outlandish, I don't think I'm being that crazy. Kliff Kingsbury has been trying to run the ball more since he completely abandoned the thought in 2014. In 2017, Texas Tech was 6th in the conference in rushing, with 1,786 yards. That's just 10 yards per game short of West Virginia, and just as productive in the touchdown category.
Why am I confident in this team's rushing attack? I can answer that in three parts.
Part 1: The Running Backs
I'm usually a big 'numbers over eye test' guy, but with Tre King in 2017, watching him tells you way more than his stats do. His stats weren't bad per se, but sporadic usage and some injuries really held him back. To get a full sense of what King can bring to the 2018 season, just watch this opening drive against Oklahoma last season, an average Big 12 defense. (After watching the drive and touchdown, immediately shut off the video.)
You should have listened and shut off the video! No need to relive the special team woes of 2017 in an article about something entirely different.
Also, I could live a long and happy life without ever hearing Steve Levy and his smug commentating again. But I digress. Tre King opened that game with 9 carries and 46 yards on the opening drive, and he finished the Oklahoma game with 24 carries and 113 yards.
Let's take that production, 4.7 yards per attempt, and give King 20 carries a game in 2018. That's 1,128 yards in 240 carries. For historical reference, DeAndre Washington had 233 carries in 2015.
The second feature back in the offense figures to be Da'Leon Ward, who also has a slim sample size to extrapolate from, but I'm going to do it anyways.
In his final four games of 2016, Ward ran for 370 yards on 90 carries, which is 4.1 yards per attempt. Let's stretch that out to a full season on 15 carries per game. That's 180 carries and 738 yards.
That means a duo of King and Ward, based on totally accurate statistical analysis, could run for 1,866 yards on 420 carries. A conservative compilation of Patrick Mahomes' rushing stats would add around 250 yards rushing from the quarterback spot. So a team total would be 2,116.
Adding in assorted carries for receivers and the three other running backs, and it's easy to imagine a world where Texas Tech could be inching past 2,500 yards rushing in 2018.
Part 2: The Offensive Line
Most importantly, everyone on the offensive line is back. It's the only position group on offense returning an extended starter from 2017, and they are doing it across the board.
Even if the left guard spot is up in the air, the 2018 offensive line will feature a senior, two juniors and a sophomore that's coming off a Freshman All-American campaign.
There is also depth at every position.
The top three rushers of 2017 averaged five yards per carry behind this offensive line. I don't see any reason that couldn't at least repeat in 2018, if not improve.
Part 3: Kevin Johns
Kingsbury will still call all of the plays in 2018, but if he had the self awareness to hire Kevin Johns, then surely he will listen to him during the game planning stages.
In 2017, Western Michigan carried the ball 562 times for 2,697 yards. In three seasons at Indiana as the offensive coordinator, Johns' offenses averaged 555 carries and 2,626 yards. That's pretty consistent.
Jordan Howard is a name that's pretty well known after spending just a season with Indiana and Kevin Johns. In 2015, he ran for 1,200 yards while splitting time with Devine Redding, who also topped 1,000 yards.
To get a sense of Howard's success, and the type of rushing attack that Johns implements, here's a Howard highlight video:
(Side note: While Howard is an NFL talent and bigger than both Ward and King, I think they both excel in the one cut style that Howard used at Indiana.)
2015 is actually a great year to set some expectations on what a Kliff Kingsbury-Kevin Johns mashup could look like. They passed for 3,500 yards and rushed for 2,700 yards. That put Indiana at 16th in the country.
I would be surprised if Texas Tech didn't pass for more than 4,000 yards next season, but I don't think that means you have sacrifice the production of the rushing attack. The beauty of the mashup is you can take the best parts of Kliff Kingsbury and infuse just the essence Kevin Johns to make a dangerous combo platter of offense.
Could it be disastrous? Yes, but I'm an optimist and it is difficult to wrap my head around a sentence that features 'Texas Tech', 'offense' and 'disaster' in any kind of order.
Texas Tech, in the Kingsbury Era, runs on average 1,035 offensive plays a season. In 2017, the split was almost exactly 55-45, pass to run.
I think, realistically, it gets even closer to 50-50 this season. For example, Texas was at 507-499 run to pass, and West Virginia was at 460-480. I think Texas Tech will fall somewhere in between.
That means, in my estimation, Texas Tech will get at least 500 rushing attempts this season (that's 42 carries a game!), and at five yards a carry, that's 2,500 yards. Just for the sake of it, at 5.5 yards per carry, it's 2,750 yards.
Before you say 500 carries is impossible, it's only a handful more carries per game than last season, and Kevin Johns has never called less than 534 rushing attempts in a season. In 2015, which we mentioned earlier, he called 592 run plays, or more accurately, plays that ended in rushing yards.
We haven't mentioned touchdowns yet, but I'm going to give you those in my final guesstimation.
Texas Tech's final rushing stat line will read, 503 carries for 2,527 yards and 29 touchdowns and at least one running back will get 1,000 yards.