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Monday, October 26, 2009

Short Cuts: How Bad a Runner is Richard Samuel?

The biggest UGA story during my week off might have been Mark Richt's admission that there was at least a chance Richard Samuel would be moved to linebacker next season. The rationale is simple: Samuel is big, strong and fast, but he just doesn't have those natural instincts a running back needs to hit the hole and break tackles. The evidence is simple, too: He makes contact, then goes down. Too many short runs, not enough first downs. But is it true?

Here's a rundown of the runs made by each of Georgia's four primary tailbacks this season:

PlayerTotal Runs
0/Neg. (Pct)
1-3 yds (Pct)
4-6 yds (Pct)
7-9 yds (Pct)
10+ yds (Pct)
16 (20.7%)
31 (40.3%)
15 (19.5%)
9 (11.6%)
6 (7.8%)
C. King
35 9 (25.7%)
13 (37.1%)
6 (17.1 %)
1 (2.9%)
6 (17.1%)
W. Ealey
6 (19.3%)
15 (48.4%)
6 (19.3%)
3 (9.6%)
1 (3.2%)
19 3 (15.8%)
5 (26.3%)
5 (26.3%)
2 (13.2%)
4 (21.1%)

Well, it's hard to argue with the notion that Samuel does, indeed, provide a hefty dose of short runs. In fact, 61 percent of the time Samuel carries the football, he picks up fewer than 3 yards. That's not going to get it done.

But is that Samuel's fault or are there other forces at work here?

Look at Georgia's other three tailbacks: Caleb King picks up 3 yards or fewer on 62.8 percent of his carries. Washaun Ealey fails to top 3 yards on a whopping 67.7 percent of his carries. Only Carlton Thomas has had more success at picking up consistent yardage on his runs than Samuel, and his numbers are dubious for several reasons including both a small sample size and the fact that the majority of his work has come during "garbage time" efforts.

So is Samuel really more prone to going down on first contact? These numbers say no. The problem is either a.) All of Georgia's tailbacks fail to break tackles or b.) Georgia's O line simply isn't making longer runs an option.

Of course, there's also the other end of the scale. What about those really long runs -- the ones that seriously erode a defense's confidence and set the offense up with strong field position? On that end, King is the clear winner, and Samuel doesn't seem to have much success. Perhaps that is a better indication of "instincts." Perhaps those real running lanes have been a rarity this season, but when they do appear, King has taken advantage of them while Samuel has not.

That seems reasonable, but if we expand our definition of "big play" to include any of more than 7 yards, suddenly the difference between Samuel and King disappears. So maybe it's not first contact that Samuel has more trouble with than others, but second contact.

Again, none of this is a foolproof answer to the question, but at the same time it does sort of dampen that conventional wisdom that Samuel simply isn't cut out to play tailback.

A few other points worth noting from this data:

-- If Georgia does move Samuel, I'm not sure the coaching staff can be criticized for a failed experiment. What does seem perplexing, however, is why -- if Samuel needed time to develop his skills as a runner -- he wasn't redshirted last year when he was just 17 and had minimal tailback experience.

-- Washaun Ealey seems to be the ray of hope for most fans, but while he has had a couple of more memorable runs, his overall body of work is clearly the worst of the four.

-- Carlton Thomas needs more touches. He's not a traditional runner, but when given a chance to succeed, he does it. Coaches need to stop looking at him as a third or fourth option and start viewing him as a real weapon for the offense.

I did a good bit more research on the running game as well, and we'll get to that later today and tomorrow, so stay tuned.

ADDENDUM: I should also note that perhaps the most stinging indictment of Samuel is not his short runs but rather his propensity for fumbles. I'll take a series of 2-yard totes over a turnover any day.


Anonymous said...

Carlton Thomas needs to be our punt returner.

TybeeDawg said...

Samuel's fumbles trump any success he has running the ball.

jm said...

very nice statistical argument.

i'm pretty sure the majority of RS to LB guys will be very surprised by the stats.

MDC said...

the problem with this analysis is that it does not compare the players on an apples to apples basis. king did not play the first two weeks nor did he play against UT.

further, its impossible to glean how much blocking each back. I would argue that early in the OSU game there was a LOT of yardage to be had for samuel. additionally, the sample sizes are so small that its impossible to compare their performances.

I think we can say that if we got thomas the ball in space, he would likely give us some better production out of the position. that said, very few of the backs have had much if any space to work with on traditional running plays

Auntie Rae said...

The answer to your question is....very bad. Just not as bad, or at least as bad, as the rest of Georgia's bad running backs. Who all suck. And how many RB's are committed for 2010 right now?

Anonymous said...

Anyone else think that this might have something to do with recruiting? We clearly need another talented RB in next years class, and when you look at our current stable of RB's no one is going anywhere anytime soon. Talk about moving Samuel to LB, puts the idea in the the recruits head that there might be even more of an opportunity at UGA to play right away at RB.

Anonymous said...

The tailback position is still wide open.

This year, none of our backs have shown a consistent ability to finish runs like their predecessors.

Samuel showed good ability in the South Carolina game, but one of the most important requirements in finishing the run is to have the ball in your hands.

Caleb King has shown the best ability to finish runs this year in my opinion, but injuries have again entered the picture.

Ealey has a quick burst, has some moves, and can run inside if needed, but you can't help but feel he is leaving extra yards on the field.

Carlton has the same type of burst as Ealey and made a game-saving play against South Carolina, but you get the sense he more of an outside runner and receiver like Tyson Browning.

Getting only two years out of Moreno left us with a gap in experience at this position. These four guys are getting a chance earlier in their careers than most.

Hopefully, our coaches have taken advantage of the off week and included some physical goal line and run game drills to determine who wants it most.

Saturday would be a great day to find out who it is.

Ant123 said...

David, I think everybody is missing the point. Our run blocking has been awful. In 1980 Carnie Norris ran for 150 yds. Not knocking him but any of the guys your mentioning here has more raw talent. The fact that 20% of our runs have been 0 or negative says it all. That does not happen behind a good line.

Anonymous said...

Samuel's feet and balance are his worst attribute, give him a hole where he can get is speed up, he will be great, make him juke behind the line, stick a fork in him - he's done.

Fl Dawg said...

How can you say it's recruiting Samuel was highly rated as was King. The Oline is not helping and we might miss Ball at rb coach to develop these guys. Does anyone think Nikell Robey's worries might have been that Carlton Thomas has not gotten a fair chance so far this year, more so than he's worried about Willie? I do

Anonymous said...

UGA has moved several very talented players around like Brandon Miller and Kiante Tripp, but so far, I don't see that they were successful with these position transfers. Whatever they do, I wish them success.

Anonymous said...

Nice comparative statistics, but I think we can all trust our eyes: Samuel is not a good running back. He doesn't have the balance, vision and instincts people expect of a Georgia back.