Big 12 teams are piling up crazy stats again, just like they do every September.
The difference this year? The numbers are not all through the air.
Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma all rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards, led by the Wildcats with 612. Through the first two weeks of the season, all but one of the Big 12’s 10 teams are averaging more than five yards a run.
The Big 12 had just four teams (and current member TCU) that averaged at least five yards per carry in 2011 — and Missouri and Texas A&M aren’t even in the league anymore.
It is only mid-September and Big 12 teams so far have been playing weaker competition, so balanced offenses are more noticeable in a league known the past several years for prolific passing. Still, coaches know what’s at stake.
“When you look at who is winning national championships, it’s been teams that can run the ball and be balanced, but also play great defense against the run,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I do think that people are trying to run the ball more.”
The face of Kansas State’s running game has been bruising senior quarterback Collin Klein, who has 125 yards rushing and three touchdowns in two games. But junior running back John Hubert has been superb so far with 258 yards — one shy of Oklahoma newcomer Damien Williams for the league lead.
Hubert has cracked the 100-yard barrier two weeks in a row for the Wildcats, who won 10 games last season despite ranking 108th in the nation in passing offense.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said the goal is simply to take what defenses give them. So far, Kansas State has run the ball 50 times a game while throwing just 20 passes — and the Wildcats are 2-0 after blasting Miami 52-13.
“The bottom line is simply that you want to avoid creating tendencies that give a defensive football team an advantage,” Snyder said.
Williams, a junior college transfer from Arizona Western, rushed for 156 yards and four touchdowns on just 10 carries as Oklahoma shook off a shaky debut and routed Florida A&M 69-13 to move to 2-0.
The Sooners finished in the middle of the pack, 50th overall, in rushing offense in 2011, one spot ahead of rival Oklahoma State. But Williams has quickly earned the trust of coach Bob Stoops and appears set to be a major factor for the Sooners in 2012.
“Williams is a big, strong fast guy that’s really performing well and has had some big plays for us. But he’s been doing the little things too,” he said. “Taking care of the football, and not a little thing but a big thing: pass protection. Stepping up and picking up blitzes. He’s been very good.”
Oklahoma State has some issues on defense and with penalties after giving up a staggering 59 points in a three-touchdown loss at Arizona.
But the Cowboys haven’t had any trouble running the ball. They ran for 200 yards against the Wildcats, with star Joseph Randle gaining 123 yards and Jeremy Smith adding 77 on just eight carries.
Coach Mike Gundy is hopeful that a healthy rushing attack will help make life easier for freshman quarterback Wes Lunt.
“Even though we’re a spread, no-huddle team and we move really fast and we throw a lot of passes, you have to be able to run the football, in our opinion, to have success against good defensive football teams,” Gundy said. “It opens up the throwing game for a young quarterback. To sit in the pocket and just throw the ball consistently without any run game would be difficult in our eyes.”
Kansas has gotten into the act under new coach Charlie Weis, averaging a healthy 5.5 yards per carry that ties Texas for fourth among Big 12 teams that have played twice.
The Jayhawks have a pair of tailbacks, Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox, who have combined to rush for 444 yards and four touchdowns. New quarterback Dayne Crist is off to a slow start with three interceptions and a 51.6 completion percentage, and the Jayhawks suffered a disheartening setback on Saturday when they lost to Rice 25-24 on a 45-yard field goal at the final whistle.
Kansas looks like it can run the ball better than it has in recent history. But the Jayhawks are going to need more than a resurgent ground game after years of losing.