Mike Leach, Shannon Woods, and Red Zone Efficiency: A Question

I've spent a lot of time on this site singing the praises of Michael Leach. The man marches to his own drum while speaking his mind openly and honestly. We've seen him deliver the weather report. We've seen him sing the praises of pirates.

We've also seen him fearlessly embrace an unconventional approach to coaching college football, particularly on offense.

Yesterday, Leach was interviewed by Texas Monthly.com, and I was struck, as usual, by lots of what Leach said - but one thing in particular:

Leach: We've also got a great corps of receivers, and I'll tell you what's tricky about us: We've got a lot of new faces. We're going to be younger and faster on defense, and we're going to have one of the better secondaries that I've had. Our running back, Shannon Woods, led the conference in all-purpose yards, and if he continues to play well, he can do it again. We have new faces at the line. I think the offensive line is the most important position on offense, and I was impressed with what they did in the spring.

Emphasis mine

I vividly recall thinking to myself on more than one occasion last season that (1) Shannon Woods is a damn talented tailback and (2) I couldn't figure out why Leach didn't trust him the way he trusted Taurean Henderson.

After reading Leach's quote today, I looked up the numbers of Henderson and Woods in 2005 and 2006 to compare, and was astonished to see that Leach had utilized Woods almost identically to how he'd used Henderson in '05.

Taurean Henderson 2005: 148 rushes, 872 yards, 5.79 ypa / 67 receptions, 528 yards, 7.88 ypc

Shannon Woods 2006: 152 rushes, 926 yards, 6.09 ypa / 75 receptions, 752 yards, 7.63 ypc

The numbers are virtually identical, though the sophomore Woods was a touch more efficient than his senior predecessor. Looking at the numbers, I was all the more confused about why Texas Tech's offense seemingly regressed in 2006. That is, until I noticed the touchdown production of the two tailbacks:

Henderson 2005: 17 rush TD, 5 receiving TD

Woods 2006: 10 rush TD, 2 receiving TD

For two players as equally involved in their offenses as Henderson and Woods were in 2005 and 2006, that's a dramatic difference in scoring production. Without having watched enough of either season to draw any definitive conclusions, I'm still inexorably drawn to the notion that there's a real - possibly quantifiable - difference between players in terms of their ability to operate effectively in the red zone. It would be worth looking at this hypothesis on a much larger scale to verify, but even without any hard data to support this idea, Texas fans probably should be rubbing their chins and thinking back to our own red zone struggles in 2006.

After all, Texas' inability to execute short-yardage to-go situations in the red zone cost the team dearly in 2006. Colt McCoy was injured for precisely that reason, while Henry Melton's disastrous fourth down run against Texas A&M in Austin was a microcosm of the entire season's rushing struggles.

All this is to say that as we begin to think about what may be in store for exciting talents like Jamaal Charles and Shannon Woods in 2007, it may very well be that the effectiveness of these respective offenses in converting red zone chances may have as much - or more (or everything) - to do with the emergence of a player who's better suited to execute touchdowns on short fields.

Just one more thing to think about as we gear up for August.

--PB--

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