Texas spent the offseason pursuing balance, something its offense hasn't had while Colt McCoy slung his passes with remarkable accuracy. Sure the Longhorns' points per game average did not suffer, but the lack of a consistent running game hurt in games against Nebraska and Alabama, and in the 2008 season's bowl win over Ohio State.
In all three games, Texas' offense didn't come near its usual production. So with McCoy's exit came change that hit a minor speed bump against Rice on Saturday. Though the Longhorns won comfortably, the rushing totals never neared the dominance Longhorns fans have come to expect from their team.
"I thought that when I evaluated the running game, and I thought this when we left the field on Saturday, the front side of the play was knocked in. It was unbelievable, as good as we’ve ever done," said Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis. "But we didn’t do a good job on the backside a couple of times. We had some great blocking upfront that created holes, but if we get the backside cut off, the play that ended up making three [yards] might have made 10."
Texas' top two running backs didn't touch the targeted benchmark of four yards per carry and a previously undisclosed injury to starter Cody Johnson prompted a switch to Tre' Newton. Johnson sprained his ankle on his second carry, slowing his production.
"I think that also speaks to Cody’s toughness and his ability. He was in it to the very end of the ball game," Davis said. "That part is encouraging, that he was tough enough to play through it, but we would like for him to tell us when those things happen."
He was also stuffed four times inside the 5-yard line, while Newton took advantage of goal line carries and scored three touchdowns. He'll make his sixth start on Saturday against Wyoming, and along with his offensive line, will be chasing a better day than the one he had Saturday.
"We’re not near where we are going offensively," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "What we wanted to do in this game is line up and test the guys and be patient and send the message to them that we may not run it a lot more than we have in the past, but we want to run it better than we have in the last couple of years. We did that. 200 yards rushing is good. We didn’t have long runs."
Brown and his featured back, Newton, know the number that matters is the "1" in the win column. But they also know the running game they've tried to improve since the spring needs to be better than it was on Saturday for that number to grow.
"We're all happy with that," Newton said of the win. "but we came back and looked at the film and we saw areas where we could improve, and that's a goal each week, just improve each and every week."