Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Built to Perform: Texas running game
By Carter Strickland
AUSTIN, Texas -- The focus might be on Case McCoy and the quarterback position as No. 18 Texas is headed into No. 6 Kansas State.
But the onus is on the running game.
That’s what Texas has to have to win. It’s what Texas has had when it has won. During the four-game win streak that was halted by TCU, the Longhorns averaged 201.5 rushing yards per game. Against TCU, Texas had just 86 rushing yards.
"Obviously, if you can run it, you'd like to," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "We just weren't running it well."
Freshman running back Johnathan Gray has had the hot hand lately for the Longhorns.
That’s why Texas found itself out of the running for a BCS game.
But all is not lost for the Longhorns. Another win would mark an improvement, however slight, from last season's total of eight. And an upset win over Kansas State would be the program’s biggest win since winning at No. 5 Nebraska in 2010.
But to get both, Texas must get back to what it got the eight wins to start with -- a run game that is built to perform in the big games.
"You hope you're in a position where you're running enough plays, you have opportunities to run the ball, those guys are getting chances to play," said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.
Those guys -- Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray -- have not all had equal opportunities. Youth kept Gray in a limited role until the fourth quarter of the Oklahoma State game. That happened to be the same game in which Brown suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half.
The TCU game represented the first time Brown was completely healthy. But ready as he was to play, Texas was not ready for him. Turnovers forced the offense to play catch up in the second half. As a result, carries were down and Brown never touched the field.
Now Texas has the opportunity to get all three backs touches against a defense that just gave up a season-high 342 rushing yards to Baylor, a passing team. Texas’ season-high in rushing was 350 yards in the third week of the season against Ole Miss when, not so coincidentally, all three back were healthy.
It was Brown who led the way that day with 128 yards. Gray had 50 and Bergeron 48.
It’s not likely Brown will get enough touches to lead the way against KSU. Gray, who has 338 rushing yards since being installed as starter four games ago, should once again lead the team in carries. Bergeron will be the second option.
"When guys get injured, other guys step up," Harsin said. "That's what you ask them to do, what you expect them to do. Guys have done that."
That doesn’t mean that Brown cannot step up and add yet another dimension to this run game. Prior to his injury, Brown was the team’s leading rusher and it’s best threat to break a tackle outside of the tackles. Brown has gained 58 percent of his yards outside the tackles.
If Brown is able to break a few runs in the third or fourth series -- the most likely time that Harsin said he would put Brown in -- then Texas once again may have three options.
"It comes down to who is running the ball the best, who has the hot hand," Harsin said. "We want to let those guys get into a flow. It's usually about one or two guys."
At Texas, because of the way the run game has been built, it could be about three guys.