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Monday, January 21, 2013
Stats to watch: Texas has experience in '13

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- The offseason, especially around Texas these past few years, is typically fraught with worry, speculation and maybe even a smidge of hope.

Everyone wants to know what will happen come fall. No one, despite consultations with tea leaves, crystal balls, the ghost of Madam Hipple, the endless blogs at every corner of the Internet and preseason magazines, ever really does.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t signs or clues of what could happen. History is kind that way, leaving behind a trail that could help tell a future tale.

Mike Davis
Texas wideout Mike Davis flirted with entering the NFL draft, but his return will give the Longhorns a reliable deep threat.
For Texas there were plenty of talisman littered across the stats and field of play following 2012. Some were good. Some were bad. All are a part of what this team will be in the future.

With that in mind here are two stats, one good and one bad, to chew on through this offseason that could play a large role in defining Texas’ 2013 season.

The Good

The Texas offense will consist of players who have started a combined 192 games. In fact, only one position player will step on the field without a start, wide receiver. And the players vying for that spot, Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders, Bryant Jackson and Marcus Johnson, have all gone through a year or more of practice and got on the field in 2012. In addition, the newcomer at the wide receiver position should be more than compensated for by the experience of Mike Davis (27 career starts) and Jaxon Shipley (15).

The bulk of Texas’ 192 starts are across the line. Texas will return all five starters and those starters have combined for 125 starts in their careers. Mason Walters leads the group with 38 career starts. Donald Hawkins is the least experienced in that group with 11 starts. One issue for Texas is that no backup offensive lineman has ever started a game at Texas.

The least experienced position should not give too much pause. Running back Johnathan Gray only has four starts. But his team-leading 701 rushing yards is a testament to the fact that he knows what he is doing in the backfield. At tight end, M.J. McFarland, the projected starter, only has four career starts. But this is McFarland’s third year in the program and with a slight change in offensive philosophy -- the thought is Major Applewhite will go to more of a spread attack -- McFarland might now find the position more suited to his natural abilities.

And, of course, there is David Ash at quarterback. He has 18 career starts. That makes him the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12.

The Bad

When Texas wanted to run the ball it couldn’t. Not with all that aforementioned experienced. Not with all the talent it had in the backfield. Not early in the year (74 yards against Oklahoma) or late (99 yards against Kansas State.)

Had Texas been a team that didn’t want to run then ball maybe the putrid run game against the likes of OU, TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oregon State wouldn’t be all that disconcerting. But that the run game has been a point of emphasis for two years and still Texas was inept means there is a fundamental flaw in the coaching of the offensive line and overall run-game philosophy.

The only games in which Texas could successfully run the ball was when the opponent had smaller, decidedly slower defensive linemen. Any time Texas faced any speed, agility or quickness from the opposing defensive line the offensive line crumbled. And even when that defensive line was more bulk than brawn (Oregon State), Texas failed to make the adequate running lanes.

In Texas’ four losses it averaged 99 rushing yards per game and only once went for more than 100. That was against West Virginia, a middling run defense that allowed, on average, 160 yards per game. Texas only managed 117 rushing yards against Oregon State despite a game plan that was tailored to come out and pound the ball right at the Beavers. The Longhorns eventually abandon that attack for quarterback runs and the passing game.

There might be a change in the way Texas runs the ball if it goes to the spread attack. That should take some pressure of what should be labeled a largely ineffective offensive line up to this point of their collective careers. But, at some point (most likely against OU), Texas is going to have line up and get a few tough yards. If history is any guide the Longhorns won’t make the yards they need.