After gradually taking positive steps the last few years, the Florida State running game was stuffed at the line in 2011. The Seminoles averaged just 112.2 yards per game on the ground, and 3.3 yards per rush.
FSU rushed for over 200 yards in a game just twice in 2011, and rushed for 63 yards or less in a game five times.
The running game stalled due to a number of reasons in 2011, but injuries may have played the biggest part. The offensive line used seven different starting lineups during the year as injuries decimated the unit.
2010-leading rusher Chris Thompson suffered a broken back just five weeks into the season. During 2010 Thompson was the home run hitter for the Seminoles with three different scoring runs of at least 70 yards. FSU's longest run in 2011 came on an end around by wide receiver Rashad Greene for 53 yards.
With Thompson out it was true freshman Devonta Freeman who carried the load with 120 rushes for 579 yards (4.8 per carry), and eight touchdowns.
Behind Freeman senior running backs Jermaine Thomas (279 yards, 1 TD) and Ty Jones (71 yards, 1 TD) were inconsistent and fellow freshman James Wilder Jr. (160 yards, 1 TD) never had that breakout moment.
Despite a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the Clemson game and nagged him throughout the season, EJ Manuel was effective on the ground for FSU with four rushing touchdowns and 411 yards rushing (before losing 260 yards due to sacks). Clint Tricket also had a rushing touchdown making it the second year in a row that FSU QBs have combined for at least five scores on the ground.
Short-yardage situations were the running games Achilles' heal. FSU picked up 93 first downs on the ground (compared to 134 passing) and scored touchdowns on just 58 percent of its red zone trips.
The 112.2 yards per game were the lowest average for FSU since 2006, and the 3.3 yards per carry were the lowest since 2005.
It's hard to imagine the rushing attack could go anywhere but up for FSU in 2012 but there will be plenty of hurdles. Thompson was limited from contact in the spring due to his back, and Freeman missed the whole spring with a back injury of his own, and instead of taking advantage of the opportunity Wilder had a number of off-season legal issues that forced him to be away from the team.
Early enrollee Mario Pender was impressive during the spring and could help carry the load as Freeman and Thompson slowly work their way back into the lineup. Fullback Lonnie Pryor also saw time at tailback in the spring and could get the cancel to run the ball more in 2012 (he rushed the ball 23 times for 74 yards and a TD last season).
If Freeman and Thompson are healthy, coupled with an improved offensive line then the FSU running game could begin to make positive strides again in 2012.
Seven-year breakdown of the FSU rushing offense
Yards Per Game: 112.2
Yards Per Carry: 3.3
Attempts Per Game: 33.6
Yards Per Game: 171.4
Yards Per Carry: 4.8
Attempts Per Game: 35.7
Yards Per Game: 149.5
Yards Per Carry: 4.6
Attempts Per Game: 32.4
Yards Per Game: 179.1
Yards Per Carry: 4.8
Attempts Per Game: 37.1
Yards Per Game: 127.6
Yards Per Carry: 3.7
Attempts Per Game: 34.3
Yards Per Game: 96.5
Yards Per Carry: 3.5
Attempts Per Game: 27.9
Yards Per Game: 94.0
Yards Per Carry: 3.2
Attempts Per Game: 28.9
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