How Derrius Guice’s 2017 season was different, but still pretty great

BATON ROUGE, La. — The difference between Derrius Guice’s 2016 and 2017 seasons might be best explained in baseball metaphors.

As a sophomore in 2016, Guice was a home run hitter. Arguably the best one in the nation. Guice had 11 carries that went for 30 yards or more that season, trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson among Power 5 players. Guice led the SEC in rushing with 1,387 yards, but 41 percent of his rushing yardage (562 yards) came on those 11 carries.

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In 2017, Guice wasn’t as reliable of a home run threat, but he still found his way on base. Guice’s number of home run carries dropped from 11 to four. Those four carries accounted for 173 of Guice’s 1,153 yards, or 15 percent. Still, with the significant drop in big plays, Guice finished the regular season third among SEC running backs in yards, fifth among SEC starters in yards per carry (5.34) and tied for third in the league in rushing touchdowns with 11.

So how was Guice able to keep his production so high while sacrificing the long runs for which he became known? The answer lied in his ability to grind out 10-to-20 yard runs, the football equivalent of giving up home runs for doubles.

Here’s what we mean:

Derrius Guice carries by minimum distance, 2016 vs. 2017

Minimum distance 2016 2017
10-yard runs 37 25
20-yard runs 19 8
30-yard runs 11 4
40-yard runs 8 2
50-yard runs 4 1

Sure, Guice’s total of chunk runs dropped from his sophomore season to his junior season, on 33 more carries, mind you. But consider the distribution of his chunk runs. In 2016, more than half of his runs that went for 10 yards also went for 20 yards. About 30 percent of those went at least 30 yards. Long runs are great; they often lead to points. And unlike in baseball, you don’t get to keep hitting if you smack a home run. When a running back slices for 96 yards, you have to play defense.

Now look at 2017. Guice broke off 21 carries for between 10 and 29 yards. In 2016, he had 25 such carries. Those are the kinds of plays that extend drives. Those are the kinds of plays LSU coach Ed Orgeron has praised Guice for time and time again this season. Because while a special back can slash through a hole untouched for 70 yards, it takes a different type of special back to churn out 18 yards at a time, take your hits, then get back up and do it again.

All things considered, Guice took a step back in 2017. But replicating his success from 2016 was never really an option. Guice was every defense’s focus when LSU’s offense was on the field. Leonard Fournette wasn’t there to take away attention, and Guice’s 2016 tape taught defenses to treat him the same way they treated Fournette.

But therein lies the part of Guice’s game that should be appreciated. Even while battling injury and fighting through 8-man defensive fronts, Guice carved out consistent small-chunk gains, more than two a game on average.

Those are the runs NFL scouts should take notice of. NFL running backs don’t have seasons like Guice did in 2016. The fewest amount of carries an NFL running back has ever had in a season in which he rushed for at least 1,387 yards was 230. Guice did that in 183 carries.

NFL running backs have seasons like the one Guice did this season. They grind out tough yardage. And that’s what Derrius Guice proved he can do in 2017.

The post How Derrius Guice’s 2017 season was different, but still pretty great appeared first on SEC Country.

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