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Short Running Backs, or, Curing Insomnia

Here is my confession of split personalities when it comes to college football. On the one hand, trying to apply statistical analysis is questionable: the sample sizes are pretty small and it's hard to normalize (plus I suck at doing the actual math). On the other, people make claims all the time without seeing if the numbers bear them out.

One such claim was, in the wake of the battering handed out by Oregon State to USC, that the rest of the Pac-10 had been given the template on how to beat USC. That hasn't come to fruition *yet*, but as Paragon noted, Arizona has their own (relatively) short running back, who comes into this weekend's game having put the hurt on Cal.

I want to look at two questions - have other teams improved their running game results with the benefit of looking at Oregon State? And, is Jacquizz Rodgers an outlier?

Firstly, a chart of the heights and yards gained of the top 2 rushers from each game this season: (note - opens as a PDF in another window until I can find the time to properly convert it to a jpg file)


Can you spot the outlier? Just in case you can't, I looked at the mean and standard deviations of height and yards gained, and it becomes even more obvious:

Height Yards Std Dev Height Std Dev Yards
Peerman (UVA) 5.83 32 -0.30 -0.32
Simpson (UVA) 6.08 9 0.69 -0.83
Herron (tOSU) 5.83 51 -0.30 0.10
Pryor (tOSU) 6.50 40 2.35 -0.15
Jac. Rodgers (OSU) 5.50 186 -1.63 3.07
Jam. Rodgers (OSU) 5.58 3 -1.30 -0.96
Johnson (Ore) 5.83 45 -0.30 -0.04
Masoli (Ore) 5.92 19 0.03 -0.61
Nance (ASU) 5.83 64 -0.30 0.38
Herring (ASU) 5.83 35 -0.30 -0.26
Mitz (WSU) 6.00 52 0.36 0.12
Anderson (WSU) 6.17 24 1.02 -0.50
Mean 5.91 46.67
Standard Deviation 0.25 45.43

What I'm struck by is the level of consistency in USC's run defense except for that fateful night in Corvallis. I know that the blocking schemes that Oregon State used were a major part of that, but when you look at running backs near the mean height of 5' 11" or thereabouts, and one obvious exception at 5' 6" who completely blows the trend, you have to at least wonder if Arizona's short RB is going to give the Trojans fits as well.