Texas diversifies running game vs. Baylor

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Seven games in, Bryan Harsin decided it was time to change things up.

Not that what the Texas co-offensive coordinator had been doing wasn't working. But maybe it wasn't working as well as it possibly could have. And, to add to that, some of the most explosive offensive players were hardly getting any work at all.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesFreshman Daje Johnson had 109 total yards on 9 touches, including an 84-yard touchdown run.
So Harsin looked to change all that on the first play from scrimmage against Baylor by handing the ball to Daje Johnson and letting him go 84 yards for a touchdown. Now, before thinking it was just that simple, virtually the same play was called on the next series and Johnson was thrown for a loss of eight.

Needless to say, deploying Texas speed and skill is a work in progress. But it appears that Harsin is willing to work on it.

"As the season goes on, you’ve got to find ways to change some of your tendencies, and guys have to step up so you can do that," he said.

Johnson might just be one of those guys. The freshman had nine carries in his first five games. He didn't have a touch in the first half against Oklahoma. Against Baylor he had the aforementioned first touch and subsequent touchdown as well as six other carries and two receptions.

Before there is the thought that Texas is making wholesale changes in the running game, Harsin is still committed to getting the ball in Joe Bergeron's hands and going between the tackles. Baylor made that easy as Bergeron had 19 carries for 117 yards and five touchdowns.

But, with Malcolm Brown still out with an ankle injury, Harsin knows that better teams -- not Kansas but possibly Texas Tech -- have the option to mimic how Oklahoma and West Virginia stopped the inside run game and repeat that strategy.

"All of those things you start to come predictable in, you have to break," he said.

Enter the plays for Johnson and the emergence of Johnathan Gray. The latter of those two had eight carries against Baylor. On his 25-yard touchdown run, Gray proved he might need to get a few more. And that is what Kansas will be for.

The Jayhawks are once again miserable. It was last season that Texas ran for 441 against this defense and Bergeron went for 136 basically in one quarter. This could be the week that Gray has that type of quarter or even game. Even if Malcolm Brown is healthy -- he is walking without the aid of crutches now -- it's not likely that Texas will get him significant work. The coaches know what Bergeron can do and the line knows his tendencies and how to block for him.

So then, it appears as if the scenario has been set for Gray to get the significant work he needs in order to start to feel some of the confidence he did back in high school. Again, he showed flashes of that against Baylor. And even against Oklahoma State. But flashes are not why Gray was the nation's top running back recruit in 2012. Prolonged consistency with game-breaking ability is the reason he earned that distinction.

Gray's effort should be aided by Harsin's willingness now to employ multiple formations such as two-back and diamond sets as well as use Johnson as a player who can keep the defense off balance, even if he is just deployed as a decoy. Johnson's game-breaking speed should spread a defense just slightly enough so that Gray has more holes to exploit on the inside.

And Bergeron cannot be forgotten, either. His presence and ability to run through contact sets the table for the more explosive plays.

"Like anything, you go back, and look at all the preparation that you do and how you do it and make sure that all of those little things that are so important in the beginning are still important," Harsin said. "You don’t let up on that, and that’s got to be a week-to-week thing."

Now it appears as if being diverse and less predictable in the run game might be a week-to-week thing, too.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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