- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Brown was off to a strong start to his sophomore season with two 100-yard rushing games, but it’s Joe Bergeron who Texas has leaned on more this season. Though the two split carries, Bergeron is the starter for a reason.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore leads Texas with 52 carries for 255 yards and five scores and provides the bruising power rushing necessary to complement the versatile Brown.
Since rushing for 110 yards on 15 carries in the opener against Wyoming, Bergeron has produced three near-identical stat lines of 48 or 49 rushing yards on between 11 and 15 carries. When Brown went down against Oklahoma State, he took over the lion’s share of the carries.
In the greater scheme of the offense, Bergeron has been the steady rock that Texas’s scheme relies on, and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has paired Bergeron’s 4-yards-per-carry punch with a collection of explosive skill players.
D.J. Monroe has scored a touchdown in each of Texas’s four games this season, including three on the ground. Fellow back/receiver Daje Johnson has produced 127 yards of total offense on 12 touches in his freshman season. Marquise Goodwin is also a threat on sweeps and reverses and produced an 69-yard touchdown run against Ole Miss.
Texas will have these three weapons in full force against a West Virginia defense that showed against Baylor it is prone to making mistakes that create lots of open space.
Without a doubt, though, the Texas rushing game can survive Brown’s absence -- and perhaps even thrive despite it -- because of the emergence of Johnathan Gray.
The freshman back has begun playing up to his five-star hype. After seeing limited action in the Longhorns’ first two games, Gray has established himself as a threat that Harsin and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite can trust.
He rushed for 50 yards on nine carries in mop-up time against Ole Miss, but it wasn’t until Texas called upon him when Brown went down against OSU that Gray showed he’s ready.
Gray got a struggling rushing game back on track with 12 carries for 68 yards, and operated the Longhorns’ Wild formation with ease. He ran for 20 of those yards on three carries out of the Wild, including 13 yards after contact.
In Gray, Bergeron and senior Jeremy Hills, Texas has a proven rotation of running backs. When Brown went down three carries into his night against Oklahoma State, the trio got the job done.
That job is markedly more difficult without Brown, but Texas has the luxury of lots of options for replacing the hole he leaves in its lineup and a full week to prepare accordingly. Expect a game plan that features an even greater role for Gray and Hills and more methods for getting the ball to Monroe and Johnson.
Malcolm Brown has been ruled out for the West Virginia game with a sprained ankle, but if there’s one position on this Texas roster that can handle that loss it’s the stable of running backs.