Friday, October 24, 2008

Between the Hashes: Royster’s Role Crystal Clear


PENN STATE HEAD Coach Joe Paterno has continued to evolve his team’s look offensively, now dubbed the “Spread HD” by the players. How fitting the name has become – nationally, their offense is seventh in scoring (45 PPG), 11th in total yards (482 YPG, and 10th in rushing (235 YPG). What is surprising is how quietly running back Evan Royster is putting together a statistical resume worthy of some serious post-season accolades. Maybe a closer breakdown of the Spread HD can bring clarity to the importance of Royster as the offensive catalyst.

In order for a television to be considered “HD” it needs to be dramatically superior (against standard analog televisions) in the following specifications: aspect ratio, frame rate and resolution. How does the sophomore back fare in these categories?

Aspect Ratio (TV: larger ratio in HD) – consider the football version, defined as yards per attempt ratio. It’s eight games into the season and Royster has accrued 893 rushing yards on a paltry 116 carries, breaking down to 14.5 rushes and 111 yards per game and a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. Projected that out to the full 12 game season, and he’d finish with 1,350 yards on only 175 rushes. Compare that to Michigan State’s Heisman candidate Javon Ringer, who has already racked up 1,249 yards but has done so on 263 rushes (33/game) for 4.5 yards per attempt. Take a look back to Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman campaign at USC and you’ll see he averaged 8.7 yards per carry (200 rushes, 1,740 yards). Ramp up Royster’s rushes to 200 this year and he would finish with just under 1,550 yards.

Frame rate (TV: frequency it creates a complete picture on the screen every second) – a complete picture every cycle (or second) in football can loosely translate to attempts per touchdown (APT). Again, through eight games Royster has scored 10 touchdowns on 127 total touches, giving him a “frame rate” of 12.7 APT. His teammate and quarterback Daryll Clark, a Heisman candidate in his own right, checks in with a 12.0 APT on 227 attempts (180 pass, 47 rush) for 19 total touchdowns (11 passing, eight rushing). However, five of Clark’s rushing scores have come from goal line sneaks from two yards or closer. Factor them out of the quarterback’s APT (now down to 16) and add them to the running back, Royster’s APT now checks in at an incredible 8.5 touches per touchdown. Further, Royster’s 12.7 APT blows away the Big Ten’s rushing leaders: Purdue’s Kory Sheets (15.5 APT, 10 touchdowns), Iowa’s Shonn Greene (18.3, 10 touchdowns) and Ringer (19.9, 14 touchdowns) and beats out ’05 Heisman Reggie Bush again (13.2, 18 touchdowns).

Resolution (TV: more pixilation impacts clarity) –
translating to football, resolution seems to represent the impact Royster carries for his offense. Consider the following games: opening the season, Royster scored PSU’s first two touchdowns against both Coastal Carolina (66-10) and Oregon State (45-14). Against No. 22 Illinois and at Purdue, Royster rushed for a combined 280 yards and a touchdown. And during their last two conference games, the running back scored the Lions’ first touchdown of both games (along with a combined 234 yards) en route to pull away blowouts against Wisconsin (48-7) and Michigan (46-17).

There’s no doubt that Penn State’s great start has been a team effort on both sides of the ball as they strive towards another National Champion-ship. But even Daryll Clark acknowledges that the offense all starts with his running back. When asked whether Royster’s rushing during the Wisconsin game was the catalyst to set up their offensive scheme, he remarked, “Absolutely. He ran the ball real consistently… there were a couple of plays after we hand off the ball and carry through the fake…if he keeps his feet he might be gone…with him running the way he does, it opens things up down field for us.”

So it seems that Royster’s teammates recognize his importance to the success of the offense. It won’t be surprising if we continue to watch the running back pile up big numbers right through a BCS bowl game. That’s a picture coming in nice and clear.