At long last, the 2020 Big Ten Football season is just one week away, and while enthusiasm reigns supreme, the Spartans commence this new era with an abundance of challenges on Offense.
The challenges start with a feeble Rushing Offense that only averaged 127 Yards Rushing per game last season, and to put that into perspective, that’s the bottom 15th percentile when measured against 130 D-1 schools.
When measured in Big Ten competition, the Spartans Rushing Offense only averaged 112 Yards per game, and that placed them #12 in the Big Ten.
In brief, the Rushing Offense only averaged 3.2 Yards per attempt in Big Ten competition, and consequently the Spartans only converted 33% of Third Downs, amongst the lowest in the Big Ten. It’s clear, 3.2 Yards per attempt won’t move the chains!
The Spartans simply couldn’t exert their will at the Line of Scrimmage, and that’s underscored by the fact the Spartans only scored 7 Rushing TD’s in Big Ten competition (less than 1 TD per game). By comparison, Ohio State averaged an incredible 293 Yards Rushing per game (6.0 Yards per attempt) in Big Ten competition and posted an incredible 27 Rushing TD’s, or an average of 3 Rushing TD’s per game. Ohio State converted 3rd Downs at a championship clip of 60%.
Let’s just say, opposing Defenses didn’t have to overload “the Box” to stop the Spartans Rushing Offense. Consequently, the Spartans were primarily “one dimensional”, relying upon their Passing Offense to save the day, yet in passing situations, opposing Defenses simply collapsed the passing lanes and the Spartans paid a dear price by yielding 13 Interceptions in just 9 games (the most in the Big Ten).
Meanwhile, Ohio State with a robust Running Game, not only forced opposing Defenses to respect their run game, but their efficient balance between “run & pass” opened the passing lanes and enabled Ohio State to complete 65% of their passes while only yielding one Interception for the entire Big Ten season.
I thought it was important to draw the comparison between the Spartans and the Buckeyes.
Needless to say, efficient balance between “run & pass” isn’t just a cliché, it’s critical to keeping opposing Defenses “honest”, and furthermore it’s critical to winning championships and the stats posted by Ohio State are Exhibit A.
So now, more than ever, there will be pressure upon the Spartan Rushing Offense to do its part and share the load, because the Spartans will be starting an untested Quarterback, and that means the passing choreography will be a work in progress for the entire season.
And that’s how we start 2020.
The bar is high!!!
If a team wants to be the best, then they have to prepare like the best, and in the Big Ten that means measuring up with Ohio State in the Big Ten East, and Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.
It means, everything you do as a team should be measured against the standard bearers.
In that regard, I would argue if Michigan State is looking for a model of consistency and efficiency, then Wisconsin is the model to follow.
And let’s be honest, Spartan Football has struggled mightily with inconsistency over the years. There have been exhilarating highs such as 6 National Titles between 1951 & 1966; or Darryl Rogers run to a Big Ten title in 1978; or George Perles, Rose Bowl run in 1987 followed by sharing a Big Ten title in 1990; then Nick Saban posted 10 wins in 1999; and of course there was the incredible Mark Dantonio run from 2010 to 2015.
Yet, the “high’s” have been punctuated by confounding years of mediocrity.
From 1975 until the start of the Mark Dantonio era, the Spartans posted a cumulative record of 174-177-7 (48.6%), including 14 losing seasons. In those years, there were 7 different coaches with 7 vastly different coaching philosophies, and the lack of continuity tells an unkind story. As a Spartan stakeholder, I prefer the “high’s” and I certainly prefer winning percentages north of .500 which usually comes with greater continuity.
So, what will it take to return to championship form?
It’s starts with mastering the fundamentals and that means reestablishing the Rushing Offense which is the foundation of football.
Take a look at the Wisconsin model:
In the past 10 years, Wisconsin has won 10 games or more in 7 different seasons. In the Big Ten, only Ohio State has more 10 win seasons.
Furthermore, Wisconsin has won 5 of their last 6 Bowl games and appeared in the Big Ten Championship Game 6 times (the most of “any” Big Ten team).
Most importantly, Wisconsin has been a model of Rushing efficiency, rushing for 200 yards or more in 7 of the past 8 seasons, including an “eye glazing high water mark” of 320 YPG in 2014 underscored by an incredible 8 year average of 240 Yards per game.
When a team consistently runs for 200 Yards or more per game, it takes an incredible amount of pressure off the passing game.
By comparison, in the past 8 seasons, the Spartans have only rushed for 200 Yards once.
I point out Wisconsin because in football circles, Wisconsin is not considered “Elite” or “Blueblood”, but no opposing coach wants to play Wisconsin on homecoming or any other weekend for that matter!
Wisconsin consistently “controls the Line of scrimmage” with a bounty of well coached, technically sound Offensive Linemen, always complemented by a marque, ground pounding Running Back. They win in the trenches. By every measure, Wisconsin dictates the tempo and tenor of virtually every football game.
In fact, if we go back further, Wisconsin has been the quintessential model of consistency since 1990. It started with brilliant planning and execution, whereby Donna Shalala (then Chancellor of University of Wisconsin system) hired legendary Pat Richter (3 sport, 9 time Wisconsin Letterman as AD) and together they conceived a plan to rebuild the foundering Wisconsin football program.
With plan in hand, Shalala and Richter hired Barry Alvarez as Head Football Coach and Wisconsin never looked back.
Since Alvarez took the reins, he formulated a championship plan by ensuring dominance at the Line of Scrimmage. Since 1990, Wisconsin has compiled an overall record of 259-124-8 (66%), played in 26 Bowl games and 7 Rose Bowls. And, since Alvarez assumed the role of AD, he has hired 3 coaches, including Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and Paul Chryst, each of whom have guided Wisconsin to the Big Ten Championship Game and each has been more successful than the last.
I fondly recite the Wisconsin model because it reminds me of the late, legendary John Hannah and Biggie Munn in terms of planning, execution and efficiency. After all, it was Hannah & Munn who were the architects of a remarkable run of 6 National Titles in 15 years!
To be a Champion, a team has to live it. They have to think and plan like Champions and that means preparing like a Champion every minute of every day.
Wisconsin football exemplifies it…
Can Chris Kapilovic and William Peagler build a Championship running game in the mode of Wisconsin?
Are you familiar with Chris Kapilovic and William Peagler?
Chris Kapilovic is the Spartans, Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator, while William Peagler is the Running Back Coach. Together they will carry the baton of the Spartan Rushing Offense into 2020.
But can Kapilovic and Peagler build a championship running game?
I wrote about Chris Kapilovic on April 6 and if you are so inclined, you can refer to that article in Will2Win.blog, but here are a few outtakes from that article.
For the past 8 seasons, Chris Kapilovic was Offensive Line Coach & Running Game Coordinator at University of North Carolina (2012 to 2018), followed by a single season at University of Colorado in 2019. Over those 8 seasons, Chris Kapilovic averaged 169 Yards Rushing per game.
Of course, if a teams wants to be the best, then they have to compete with the best, and we know Wisconsin averaged 240 Yards Rushing per game over the same 8 seasons. But Wisconsin is just one example. Immediately below are Rushing stats for 3 of the 4 teams that played in the College Football Playoff in 2019 each of which exceeded 200 Yards Rushing per game by a wide margin:
- Ohio State (Big Ten): 267 Yards Rushing per game
- Clemson (ACC): 240 Yards Rushing per game
- Oklahoma (Big 12): 240 Yards Rushing per game
And immediately below, are Rushing averages for division champions, Georgia, Wisconsin and Utah in 2019, each of which exceeded 200 Yards Rushing per game, yet fell short of the CFP:
- Georgia (SEC East) averaged 242 Yards Rushing per game
- Wisconsin (Big Ten West) averaged 233 Yards Rushing per game
- Utah (PAC 12 South) averaged 201 Yards Rushing per game
If you are wondering about LSU, well they were the quintessential anomaly in 2019.
LSU only averaged 167 Yards Rushing per game in 2019 well below the 200 Yard threshold, but they had other weapons at their disposal. In that regard, Joe Burrow, LSU Quarterback, completed an astounding 75% of his passes for an “eye glazing” 402 Yards per game last season: LSU finished 15-0 and won a National Championship, but it wasn’t sustainable. Joe Burrow is gone, and LSU is now 1-2 and averaging less than 100 Yards Rushing per game.
So, if the Spartans want to compete with the best, then Chris Kapilovic has his work laid out for him because the Bar is High, and he must find a way to consistently achieve 200 Yards Rushing per game to compete with the best!!!
Yet, the bar may be even higher for William Peagler.
For his part, Peagler is the Spartans new Running Back Coach, but it’s a position he has never held before.
In fact, William Peagler hasn’t been a Position Coach since 2015, at which time he was Offensive Coordinator and O-Line Coach at Olive Branch High School in Mississippi.
Since 2015, William Peagler has been at 4 different universities, with 4 different jobs, including Quality Control Coach at University of Minnesota in 2016; Graduate Assistant at University of Georgia 2017; Quality Control Coach, Louisiana Lafayette 2018; and Director of Quality Control, University of Colorado 2019.
If you are wondering about the title “Quality Control Coach”, then you should know that “Quality Control” is a support role, and not a “hands-on” coaching assignment. QC coaches are primarily responsible for analyzing game film and compiling statistical analysis for each game.
So, coaching Running Back’s is William Peagler’s first “hands on” coaching assignment at a Power 5 School, and that means the bar is exceedingly high for William Peagler, because the Big Ten is not the most friendly environment for a first year coach to learn his trade as a Running Back Coach.
At the bottom line:
Let’s wish Chris Kapilovic and William Peagler the best of good luck, because on Saturday, October 24, they will face the “moment of truth” and get their first taste of Big Ten Defenses against Greg Schiano and Rutgers.
While Greg Schiano is also a first year coach at Rutgers, he happens to be a returning head coach with a bounty of Head Coaching experience, and Greg Schiano also happens to be one of the better Defensive minds in all of college football.
Make no mistake, Schiano’s Defense will be a major challenge for the Spartans Rushing Offense.
It would be a grand understatement to say that Rutgers, coached by Greg Schiano in 2020, is a vastly more formidable opponent than Rutgers coached by Chris Ash in 2019.
At any measure, we know where the bar is set, and in my mind, Wisconsin is the standard bearer of Rushing Offense, so the question becomes, can Chris Kapilovic and William Peagler replicate the Wisconsin model and build a championship running game?
We’re about to find out.
One thing is certain, the Spartans will “kickoff” against Rutgers, at noon on Saturday, Oct 24 in the friendly confines of Spartan Stadium, and for the Spartans first year coaching staff, this is a “must win”, after all, Rutgers was winless in the Big Ten last season.
Let’s hope the Spartans have prepared like a Champion and let’s hope they open a new chapter with a resounding win as a Championship contender.
Thank you for reading.