Run the Ball – With Someone Else

Parker Gabriel wrote a piece about the large share of the rushing output Husker’s QB Adrian Martinez is responsible for. Like Parker says, Adrian has over a quarter of the Huskers carries every season he’s played at Nebraska including eclipsing the 30% threshold during his freshman year while being paired with his most talented running back at Nebraska – Maurice Washington. Reading Parker’s article made me want to look at how uncommon this output was from the QB.

As Parker said, Adrian has rushed for 30.2%, 27.2%, and 26.5% of the Huskers carries each season he’s played for the Huskers. These represent the 2nd, 7th, and 8th highest rushing percentage by a Big Ten QB since 2016. Only Ohio State’s J.T. Barret was responsible for a higher portion of his teams carries with 33.3% in 2016.

Martinez doesn’t just have high volume, he’s also responsible for good production. His three seasons rank 5th-7th in total rushing yards by a QB over the last five years in the Big Ten. Despite being benched for the Illinois game in 2020, Martinez still accumulated 32.3% of the Huskers total rushing yards in 2020 – best in the Big Ten among QBs. His rushing TD totals each season also ranked in the top 13 QB seasons.

In total, no QB has outrushed Adrian’s 1776 career yards since 2016 and only Trace McSorley has carried the ball and crossed the goal line more over the same period. In terms of percent of a teams production, Adrian ranks fourth in his percentage of the team’s carries, first in yard percentage, and fourth in TD percentage (although first and second on this list have significantly less volume).

Trace McSorley had something at Penn State all four years he was there that Adrian has yet to have – a high caliber NFL running back next to him. McSorely had the luxury of handing the ball off to future first round pick Saquon Barkley and future second round pick Miles Sanders during his time in Happy Valley. Maurice Washington had immense potential and Devine Ozigbo can hopefully still carve out a role in the NFL. While getting an Osborne era style rusher would be ideal, even having a back as capable as the Pelini era rushers would significantly help Adrian.

Since 2016, twenty Big Ten running backs have been their teams work horse getting over 40% of the carries in that season topped by the Gopher’s Mohamed Ibrahim with 67% of Minnesota’s carries in 2020. Six backs were able to maintain a 40% carry load over the entire time in college with only Northwestern’s Justin Jackson eclipsing the 50% mark.

Parker has it right, the carry distribution needs to be more balanced between Adrian and the running backs in 2021. Perhaps a single back can step up and take close to 50% of the load in 2021. Or perhaps the top two backs can each get 30%. My hope is that if Adrian can stay closer to 20% of the carry workload he should be available for all non-garbage time snaps and help push the offense to a big 2021.

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