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SEC slant: Dissecting the running game

The SEC is getting back to its roots. Led by Bret Bielema’s smashmouth football revolution in Arkansas, the league is running the ball more than it has in recent years. In fact, if the current trends hold, the conference will have more rushes per game (40.7) and more rushing yards per game (208.1) than any season in the past decade.

With that said, who is running the ball best? Let’s look and see.

The good

The Razorbacks are committed to the running game with Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall toting the rock. In fact, Collins and Williams are the only teammates who both rank in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards. Combined, they’ve run for 1,107 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide might not have the same eye-popping statistics, but between T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, there’s plenty of production. As a team, Alabama has the 18th-most productive running game in the country in terms of yards per game (258.5).

But it’s not just quantity with these two programs. Alabama and Arkansas have been the two most efficient running games in the SEC, with the Tide averaging 5.68 yards per carry and the Razorbacks averaging 6.91. Alabama and Arkansas are the only two teams in the conference to have more than half of its rushes result in 5 or more yards gained. At the same time, both teams rank in the top five in the conference in lowest percentage of rush attempts gaining zero or negative yards.

Arkansas has 42 runs of 10 or more yards this season, ranking fifth nationally in that category.

The bad

Mississippi fans should be worried about their running game this weekend. There’s not much to feel good about when you look at the statistics.

The Rebs have the highest percentage of rushes resulting in zero or negative yards (28.0), the fourth-fewest total rushing yards (643) and are tied for the fewest number of rushes for 10 or more yards (13) in the SEC.

Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss’ lead tailback, has been all or nothing this season. Of his 30 total carries, eight times he’s been stopped before crossing the line of scrimmage and nine times he’s gained 0-5 yards. He’s had a few big runs (20, 23 and 71 yards), but does the good outweigh the bad?

Lest we pick on the Rebs too much, Ole Miss isn’t the only underachieving running offense in the SEC. Tennessee, thanks to its youthful offensive line, has the fewest rushing yards (507) in the conference. It’s no wonder that Tennessee and Vanderbilt are the only teams in the SEC with less than 600 rushing yards and under 3.7 yards per carry.

The least physical running teams, in terms of the fewest yards after contact, are Florida (240), Vanderbilt (245) and South Carolina (296).

The teams with the biggest fumbling problems: LSU and Vanderbilt, which boot the ball on 3 percent of their carries.

And the best

You thought we would go this entire post without mentioning Todd Gurley ’s name? Wrong. Let’s take a quick look at the top individual performers in the SEC.

  • Most productive: Collins leads the way with 621 yards rushing, followed by Gurley (610), Jonathan Williams (486), Josh Robinson (485) and Cameron Artis-Payne (468)

  • Most explosive: Gurley has the most runs of 20 or more yards (8), followed by Collins (7), Robinson (6), Artis-Payne (4), Russell Hansbrough (4) and Leonard Fournette (4)

  • Most physical: Gurley has the most yards after contact (299), followed by Collins (284), Robinson (248), Williams 224) and Hansbrough (219)

  • Most elusive: Collins has the most yards before contact (337), followed by Gurley (311), Artis-Payne (268), Williams (262) and Ralph Webb (252)

  • Most likely to score: Tra Carson has the highest touchdown-per-rush percentage (12.5), followed by Jonathan Williams (12.1), Trey Williams (10.5), Jaylen Walton (10.3) and Darrel Williams (9.1)