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Big Sky teams shift more to the run

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - Say it ain't so, John Friesz.

No way, Bo Levi Mitchell.

You refuse to believe it, Dave Dickensen?

Half of the six former Big Sky Conference quarterbacks who have won the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award have probably noticed there's something of a shift in playing style going on in a conference that's generally known for its passing.

It's probably most noticeable with usually high-flying Eastern Washington, which in its 3-1 start has more rushing attempts and rushing yards than with what it's done through the air.

It's not so much the 13 teams in the largest FCS conference are running the ball substantially more often, it's just they've been better at it. They're running the ball 56.4 percent of the time, up 1 percent from last year and with 2 percent more rushing yards per game (note sacks yards count against totals).

Weber State freshman Josh Davis leads the way with 166.3 rushing yards per game. He's one of five players who are averaging over 100 rushing yards and there are nine over 75 yards, compared to two over 100 and four over 75 last year.

"When you're able to establish the run game, then your run-pass option game is that much better," said Eastern Washington second-year coach Aaron Best. "But when you don't run the ball consistently or you're not good at consistently running the ball for good yardage, then (defenses) won't have to honor our run-pass option game. To be able to put a defense in a bind, I think you have to establish some type of run."

Just two years ago, Eastern Washington quarterback Gabe Gubrud set the FCS single-season record with 5,160 passing yards. Last year, eight Big Sky teams ranked in the top 23 nationally in passing yards per game. This year, there's three in that group.

Interestingly, there is still one more game of 100-or-more receiving yards (21) among Big Sky players than 100-or-more rushing yards (20) this season, but five of the rushers have gone for 200 or more yards, led by Sacramento State's Elijah Dotson gaining 234 against Montana, while only one Big Sky player - Eastern Washington's Nsimba Webster - has registered a 200-yard receiving mark.

Updated September 28, 2018

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