TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten Conference have historically been the conferences that like to run the football the most. But the Atlantic Coast Conference is moving the football on the ground at the highest rate since 1996.
ACC teams are averaging roughly 171 rushing yards per game this year and eight of the 12 teams in the ACC are averaging more yards this year than in 2012.
Georgia Tech, with its triple-option attack, always puts up big numbers on the ground. This year is no different, but the leading rusher in the ACC is running over the competition in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Boston College running back Andre Williams ran his way into the Heisman Trophy race by putting up staggering numbers in the past few weeks. Williams leads the nation in rushing with 2,073 yards, making him the first major college back to run for more than 2,000 yards since Donald Brown in 2008.
Williams has powered BC from averaging 90.9 yards per game on the ground to 220.5 yards in 2013. The BC running game is second in the ACC only to the aforementioned Georgia Tech, who’s averaging 316.1 yards per game on the ground.
While BC, Georgia Tech, and even Virginia Tech can play a version of smash-mouth football; for other schools the running game is pushed by utilizing a variety of looks.
Former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden sees several factors in improved rushing averages, from no-huddle offenses that squeeze more plays into games and spread out defenses to teams looking for ways to get more playmakers on the field.
“Boston College is more the traditional way that teams used to do it,” said Bowden, now a TV studio analyst for ACC football broadcasts. “That’s old school. Georgia Tech is strictly a scheme. There’s option, there’s old school. But teams now … are being more creative.”
The Florida State Seminoles, who are going to play for the ACC Championship, have rotated Karlos Williams, James Wilder, and Devonta Freeman in at running back and is averaging 211.6 yards per game on the ground, the best output since 1995.
The Duke Blue Devils, who can earn a matchup with FSU by beating the Tar Heels on Saturday, average 179.3 yards, their best total since 1977. Yet they have no one gaining more than 48 yards per game, with Cutcliffe rotating Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell at running back along with quarterback Brandon Connette.
In the Nov. 16 win against Miami, that group helped Duke run for 358 yards, the program’s best total in 19 and the most ever by a Cutcliffe-coached team.
Of course, it helps to have a reliable runner at quarterback, too.
Connette has a Duke-record 30 career rushing touchdowns, including go-ahead scores in the second half of two wins this month and four TDs against the Hurricanes.
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has run for eight touchdowns this year as the team’s top short-yardage threat. At Maryland, C.J. Brown has six career 100-yard rushing games, most among active ACC quarterbacks.
“I think what’s changed and what’s evolved in football is the quarterback position,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. ” … You’re seeing more dual threat quarterbacks in the ACC than you’ve seen previously. There are a lot more of those kinds of quarterbacks.”
The Tar Heels have seen a little of everything. Their rushing output has dipped significantly after losing star runner Gio Bernard to the NFL, forcing them to start three tailbacks in a season-long search for a lead runner.
Yet they’re still averaging more yards rushing (139) than they did anytime between 2005-11.
“We’ve just got a team that can use more than one back,” dual-threat UNC quarterback Marquise Williams said. “You see it around the whole league, that everybody’s using more than one back and being successful.”
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