Written By Sammy Jacobs (@SammyJ108)
Having a player rush for 1,000 yards is something that has eluded the Hoosier football program for quite some time. In fact the last such season was put together way back in 2001 when Levron Williams rushed for 1,401 yards.
The Hoosiers don't just miss the 1,000 yard mark by a handful of yards each year, they have not even sniffed the mark since the 2003 season when Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis, rushed for 938 yards in his freshman year. It looked as if The Lawfirm would be the next Hoosier in line to crack the 1,000 yard barrier. However, after two years in Bloomington the running back headed closer to home and transferred Mississippi.
Recent Indiana history paired with Kevin Wilson's pass heavy offense and penchent for using multiple running backs, suggests that the Hoosiers will not see another 1,000 yard season by a running back anytime in the near future. Hoosier fans have had their hopes of reaching this milestone dashed by players transferring before their peak (Green-Ellis) or getting bit by the injury bug (Darius Willis).
However, if we look at Wilson's history at Oklahoma where he was the offensive coordinator, a 1,000 yard season by his running back was the norm in Norman. Let's look into the reasons to why or why not there will be a 1,000 yard rusher at IU in the near future.
WHY IT WILL NOT HAPPEN
There are a plethora reasons that can explain why the Indiana Hoosiers will not have a running back crack the 1,000 yard mark anytime soon. First and foremost, the scheme of the offense, a spread no-huddle that is extremely pass heavy. The Hoosiers threw the ball 141 times more than they ran it in 2012. This unbalanced approach to the offense lead the Hoosiers to the top of the Big Ten in both passing attempts and yards gained through the air.
The next reason as to why there wont be a 1,000 yard rusher on the Hoosier roster anytime soon is that Wilson uses a stable of three or four backs to spread out the workload to the point that no single rusher accrues enough touches to accumulate enough yards throughout the season. For example in 2012, Indiana's leading rusher was Stephen Houston who carried the ball 161 for 749 yards. Breaking that down Wilson only put the ball in his lead rusher's hands for 13 carries a game on average, which is simply not enough touches. In five of Indiana's contests Houston carried the ball 10 or less times. The offensive staff use four different backs with regularity throughout the 2013 season, with three of them accounting for at least 50 carries on the season. While a stable of running backs is now an accepted practice there needs to be a true front-runner in the stall that is leaned upon significantly more than the others, and that has not been the case under Wilson at IU.
The final and most telling explanation as to why Indiana has not had a truly successful running back is that the Hoosiers have not had leads to protect in very many games in recent memory. Although Wilson has shown he has no problem throwing the ball with a lead, being ahead late in the game traditionally gives an offense the motivation to run the ball allowing them to maintain their lead and control of the game clock. The stats back this theory up. In their eight losses last season Indiana rushed just 28.4 times for 110 yards per game on average. However, in their four victories, the Hoosiers carried the ball 43.3 times per contest for an average of 173 yards. To say there is a difference would be an understatement to say the least.
Given these reasons, Indiana will not see a running back surpass the 1,000 yard mark anytime soon.
WHY A 1,000 YARD RUNNER WILL HAPPEN
The simple answer is that 1,000 yards on the ground is not as difficult of a number to reach as it has been in the past. With the possibility of playing 13 or even 14 games with modern scheduling, 1,000 yards has become a very realistic achievement for even non-elite backs. If a team only plays their 12 scheduled regular season games a runner has to average just above 83 yards a game. However, with the advent of the Big Ten Title Game and the increased likelihood of Indiana going to a bowl game more contests are very possible. For that matter if 13 games are played a rusher must average 77 yards per game, and if a team was lucky enough to play in 14, just over 71 yards per game would be needed to achieve 1,000 yards for the season.
As a team Indiana rushed for over 1,500 yards last season. With teams entering 2013 focusing on shutting down the Hoosier's the passing game, it should open up holes on the line for the backs to take advantage of. If Indiana can live up to expectations and play a 13th game, it will be that much easier to reach the elusive 1,000 yard milestone.
Kevin Wilson also has his history at Oklahoma University on his side. During his tenure in Norman, Wilson had eight separate seasons in which a running back ran for over 1,000 yards. Those runners included big names such as Adrian Peterson and Demarco Murray. Both of whom went on to be major players in the NFL. While Indiana does not have that kind of talent at the position currently, Stephen Houston, D'Angelo Roberts, and Tevin Coleman are very solid backs playing behind a young but battle tested offensive line. If history is any indication, Wilson clearly is not hesitant to have a star runner and use him to his full potential. He has shown that with the right talent he can foster and develop 1,000 yard rushers within his up-tempo offense.
Having a running back reach the 1,000 yard milestone is not the ultimate goal of a team nor does it mark the success of the season. It would be however, a nice statistical milestone to point to at year's end to show that progress is being made both individually and as a team. Under the right circumstances for the team and the coaching staff deciding on a work horse back, it is very possible that the Hoosiers will reach the mark that has alluded their running backs since 2001.