Thursday, January 17, 2013
Can UT get more carries for Daje Johnson?
By Carter Strickland
AUSTIN, Texas -- Dana Holgorsen’s run game was going nowhere.
And since Texas was only on West Virginia’s schedule once, the Mountaineers coach was searching for answers.
Daje Johnson showed promise in his limited touches as a freshman.
"We had to do something," he said after the decision to move wide receiver Tavon Austin to running back.
That decision paid off, as Austin went for 344 rushing yards against Oklahoma.
"It probably should have been done four years ago," Holgorsen said in the postgame. "Moving him around and giving him some different matchups was probably a pretty good idea."
It’s an idea -- an epiphany, if you will -- that Texas needs now, so that three years from now, when rising sophomore Daje Johnson is on the doorstep of exhausting his eligibility, as Austin was, the Longhorns coaches are not looking back, lamenting and mumbling, "You know, if we would’ve ... "
Now, while Johnson is not quite as mercurial or shifty as Austin, he does have similar abilities. And as he grows into the game, so too will his repertoire. But in the run game, those talents need to be fertilized.
As a freshman, Johnson only touched the ball on running plays an average of 2.2 times per game. (He was suspended the first game of the season.) He averaged 7.5 yards per run.
Now, Johnson might not be ready to be a featured back, as Austin was down the stretch for West Virginia. (Austin followed up the OU game with 77- and 74-yard rushing performances.) But Johnson does have enough ability and toughness to warrant a few more than two runs per game.
If Malcolm Brown is back and healthy, however, he is going to take a fair share of Bergeron’s runs. Something in the neighborhood of half would not be surprising. Johnathan Gray should get a few more than the 149 carries he had in 2011 as well.
Still, add in the 27 carries Johnson had in 2011 and that leaves roughly 120 carries that could be split between Bergeron and Johnson. Those carries should not come at the expense of Johnson's contribution to the passing game. He needs to remain a threat there as well.
As for those rushing plays, Texas coaches need to call them early in the year so that Johnson can establish himself as part of the run game. It will allow the offense, particularly the line, to get comfortable with his style. It will also force opponents to obsess about how to stop him in the run game.
But most of all it will remove the chance that three years from now Texas will be like West Virginia, looking back and wondering what could have been.