Russell Ath Bowl Preview: Miami OL vs WVU DL

Nov 19, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1) runs the ball during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter Finley Stadium. Miami won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1) runs the ball during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter Finley Stadium. Miami won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The prevailing theory is that football games are won in the trenches. The Miami Hurricanes offensive line has been up and down this season. Their running game disappeared and they had trouble protecting Brad Kaaya during their four losing streak.

The Miami Hurricanes offense has improved this season, but the offensive line has in some ways regressed. Their passing blocking has improved since ending their losing streak, but their run blocking is ranked no higher than 79th overall according to the metrics at Football

Miami’s offensive line inefficiency was arguably the biggest on field reason for their four game losing streak. The Hurricanes averaged only 62.5 yards rushing per game and allowed 18 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in their four losses.

Five of Notre Dame’s 14 sacks and 12 of their 61 tackles for loss on the season came against Miami. In fairness to the Hurricanes offensive line, they have had some injuries this season. Center Nick Linder injured his shoulder in the Pittsburgh game and is out for the season. Tackles Trevor Darling and Sunny Odogwu have also missed time with injuries this year.

Football Outsiders measure the effectiveness of an offensive line in both running and pass blocking. They have six measurements for measuring an offensive line’s effectiveness running the ball and three in pass protection.

They measure just about every situation a team will find itself in offensively, by both down and yardage. The six measurements in run blocking are:

Run-blocking stats

  • Adjusted Line Yards: One of only two opponent-adjusted numbers on the page, this aligns with the ALY figure FO tracks for the NFL and is presented on a scale in which 100.0 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.
  • Standard Downs Line Yards per Carry: The raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer).
  • Passing Downs Line Yards per Carry: The same unadjusted averages for rushing on passing downs.
  • Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak.
  • Power Success Rate: This is the same as on the pro side — percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.
  • Stuff Rate: Same as STUFFED on the pro side — percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.

Miami scored a 98.1 in adjusted line yards, that ranked 93rd in the country. The rest of their measurements are a 2.91 on standard downs line yards per carry to place them 79th nationally, 2.86 on Passing Downs Line Yards per Carry, 101st nationally, 38 percent on Opportunity Rate, 91st nationally, 61.3 percent on power success rate, 107th nationally and 22 percent on Stuff rate, 112th nationally.

Miami’s success this season has been reliant on the offensive line providing room for the running game to generate yards and their ability to protect Brad Kaaya. In their win against Applachian State and five ACC wins, the Hurricanes averaged 162.2 rushing yards per game. They also only allowed six sacks in the eight wins in 2016.

Canes Warning partner site Sports Illustrated highlighted the Mountaineers early season success on the defensive side of the ball in October. SI’s College Football writer Andy Staples discussed the WVU defensive scheme and what made it successful.

"“The Mountaineers play a 3-3-5 (three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs). This is a popular alignment against up-tempo teams because the three down linemen allow coordinators to disguise coverages and pressures more easily than a four-man front.”"

With six men upfront, it might allow the Hurricanes to not have to keep Tight Ends David Njoku and Chris Herndon IV in to help with pass protection. Most teams use a seven man front and four in the back. Their defense is built to stop the pass happy offenses in the Big XII that often use the spread and run pass options.

Although not great, Miami’s offensive line scored much high in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. Their three metrics in pass protection are:

  • Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted version of a team’s sack rate — sacks divided by (sacks plus passes), presented on a scale in which 100 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.
  • Standard Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts.
  • Passing Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for passing downs pass attempts.

The Hurricanes have improved their pass protection significantly from where they were ranked near the midway point of the season. They scored a 114.1 to rank 41st nationally in adjusted pass rate, 5.2 percent in Standard Down Pass rate to rank 72nd and 6.3 percent in Passing Down Sack Rate to rank 41st.

Related Story: Miami Hurricanes Midseason Review Part I: QB Brad Kaaya

Those numbers are up from 63rd, 81st and 61st in ASR, SDSR and PDSR after the Virginia Tech game.

They will not be facing a daunting task against West Virginia’s pass rush. With an emphasis on the back end of pass defense, the Mountaineers had just 22 sacks this season. That ranks 83rd in FBS. No one on West Virginia’s defense has reached double digits in either sacks or tackles for loss.

The Hurricanes offensive line should win the battles in the trenches. Their offensive line that averages 308.6 pounds goes up against a Mountaineers defensive front six that averages 257.5 pounds.

Next: Russell Athletic Bowl Preview: Miami Hurricanes Running Game vs WVU Defense

Linebackers Justin Arndt and Al-Rasheed Benton and Defensive End Noble Nwachukwu earned honorable mention All Big XII, No one on the Mountaineers front six earned first or second team All Big XII status. Safety Rasul Douglas was named first team All Big XII.