COLUMBIA — At first glance, one aspect of Saturday’s game in College Station, Texas, appears to be the highlight of this weekend's Big 12 Conference football games.
Missouri, the No. 1 rushing team in the Big 12 Conference, will play Texas A&M, the team with the No. 1 rushing defense in the conference. Texas A&M allows fewer than 80 yards on the ground per game, and the Tigers are amassing more than 238 yards rushing per game. It's the kind of matchup that leaves football enthusiasts salivating.
However, it seems both sets of numbers could be misleading.
Let's start with Texas A&M. In addition to having a seemingly strong rush defense, the Aggies also lead the nation in sacks. They’ve tackled the quarterback in the backfield 28 times.
Why does that make the team’s numbers against the rush misleading? If this were professional football, the Aggies’ opponents would have significantly more rushing yards.
In the NFL, sacks take yardage away from a team's passing game. In college football sacks take yardage off the rushing total. That means Texas A&M’s status as one of the nation’s best teams in defending the run is being aided by what the pass rush is doing.
The Aggies’ opponents could add more than 35 yards per game to their rushing numbers. By NFL rules, the Aggies would be holding opponents to about 105 yards per game.The yards per attempt would jump from the current 2.4 to 3.6 yards making Texas A&M’s rushing defense less than it's cracked up to be.
There are other numbers that show Texas A&M is good at slowing down opposing running backs. The Aggies haven’t allowed a carry to go longer than 31 yards this season. It's the shortest long rush of the year, ranking at the top of the Big 12 along with Iowa State.
The Tigers have big numbers, too. Their running back, Henry Josey, is the top rusher in the Big 12, going for more than 122 yards per game, almost 20 yards more than the conference’s next best back. Josey ranks ninth in the country in total rushing yardage and second in the nation in yards per attempt with 8.6. That trails only preseason Heisman candidate LaMichael James of Oregon.
The Aggies aren’t the only team with slightly misleading numbers, however.
Josey, a sophomore, had one of the school’s biggest rushing outputs ever earlier this season against Western Illinois. His 263-yard, three-touchdown first half against an FCS opponent skewed his numbers a bit.
If you take Josey’s game against the Leathernecks out of the picture, he is averaging about 98 yards per game, or about 40 yards per game fewer than what his numbers currently reveal. That would put him below Oklahoma’s Dom Whaley and A&M’s Christine Michael and on even ground with Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle.
It's not to say that Saturday's game won't feature a battle between a good running back and a good rush defense. However, it might not be the clash of the titans that it would appear to be.