- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- D.J. Monroe has been stopped one time this year.
And that was by his own team. The senior hybrid back didn’t get the ball against West Virginia -- and for the first time in five games, he did not get into the end zone.
"The way he was going to get the ball was going to be some throws and some things like that, also in the wild opportunities as well," Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said after the Longhorns' loss to West Virginia. "But they presented some things defensively that didn’t look good. So we didn’t get to do some situations in the red zone where he has been accustomed to get the football on the hashes that we wanted to get. Just the way things fell, that’s how it turned out tonight.
"He understands that this is what he has to do in these other formations, and he will have more opportunities as the year goes on."
Yeah, like this week.
That’s because Monroe provides Texas with an opportunistic and experienced game-breaker. The senior is just one week removed from a 100-yard touchdown return -- the third kickoff return for a touchdown in his career, a Texas record. Monroe has rolled up 1,300 yards on 50 kick returns and his 26.3 average ranks third on the Texas career charts. He also is tied for second on the active FBS players’ list with three career kickoff TD returns. One more moves him into first.
Whether Oklahoma presents that opportunity remains to be seen. The Sooners did give up a 100-yard return to Fozzy Whittaker last season. But Oklahoma is No. 37 nationally this season, allowing only 19.44 yards and getting touchbacks on almost half its 29 kickoffs.
But here is the thing -- and Oklahoma, given its past history against Monroe and his 60-yard TD run in 2010, should know this as well as anyone -- Monroe is not just a kick returner. He has averaged 7.3 yards per carry in 2012. This after averaging 6.8 in 2011.
"He gets the ball in his hands and he makes things happen," said Texas quarterback David Ash. "He provides a spark."
That Monroe has been able to flicker in so many different positions speaks to his versatility as well as Texas’ willingness and understanding that it needs to get him the ball when and where it can.
"I've gone from wide receiver to running back, back to wide receiver, kind of back to running back," Monroe said. "Now I'm just a little bit of both. I mean, I've accepted my role as a player on the team. At this point I'm just doing whatever it takes to win, not really worrying about the whole position thing."
It was really more his position among teammates that Monroe was worried about coming into his senior year. Each year prior to this the speedster had left football for track in the spring. That, coupled with an admitted unwillingness to learn the complete playbook at first, hampered his development and the trust the offensive coaches had in him. That changed in the spring of 2012.
"I took it into myself not to run track the second half of outdoors," Monroe said. "I just wanted to come back to the team and be more of a leader."
He also wanted to be known as more than just a guy who could make people miss. Monroe wanted some power in his game. That power has been on display from the start as Monroe has been one of the Longhorns' go-to players in critical situations and inside the red zone.
"What better guy to give the ball to than him," Harsin said. "Going to make something happen. He's going to get us the first down. We really felt that way. He's continually this season proved that in clutch situations, you can give the ball to [him], he'll get you what you need out of it."
That’s because Monroe understood what he needed to get out of himself this offseason.
"This summer, me, Malcolm [Brown] and Joe [Bergeron] and [Johnathan] Gray decided to work at 12:00, the hottest part of the day," Monroe said. "It was not fake weight being put on, it was real weight."
Now Oklahoma will have weigh just how to stop Monroe.