Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Missouri, Texas face off with new identities
By David Ubben
Texas' Malcolm Brown and Missouri's Henry Josey have revitalized rushing attacks.
Missouri and Texas made their living with NFL quarterbacks behind center over the last half decade. Vince Young and Colt McCoy at Texas and Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert at Missouri took the program to new heights and did so with thousands of pass attempts.
This season? Both programs are grounded.
"There’s a little bit of a contrast there with all the wide-open offenses and the quarterbacks and the passing yards we’ve had this year and traditionally in this league the last few years," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "Both of us run the ball here pretty good."
A bit of an understatement, perhaps.
While a pair of wide-eyed, first-year starters in David Ash and James Franklin take snaps, Missouri and Texas have developed the Big 12's top two running games.
"We can throw it well, but we’d like to be at least 50-50 or 60-40 run to pass," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "And if you can run the ball and and stop the run in college football, you’ve got a chance."
Texas has averaged better than 246 yards a game on the ground this year, enjoying the fruits of consecutive 400-yard weeks on the ground for the first time since 1977.
Missouri, meanwhile, averages just fewer than 245 yards a game this year. The Big 12's next best, Kansas State, averages just 217 yards a game.
Both teams, best known for slinging it this decade, rank outside the Big 12's top half in passing offense.
"We didn’t need the passing game much the last two weeks. We threw it some and threw it downfield," Brown said. "But we do feel like over the next four weeks here, we’re going to have to be more balanced. We’ll still be physical. We’ll still run the ball, because that’s what we’re doing best right now, but we also feel like when people are stacking the box, it’ll alleviate some of the pressure in the passing game."
Both have the advantage of running quarterbacks. Ash ripped off runs of 47 and 18 yards against Texas Tech and Missouri's Franklin is 11th in the Big 12 with 599 rushing yards, second among quarterbacks behind Kansas State's Collin Klein.
Franklin also leads the team with 10 touchdowns, third in the Big 12. The Tigers' Henry Josey leads the Big 12 in rushing with 1,149 yards, fifth nationally and 234 more yards than any Big 12 back.
The Longhorns are led by freshman Malcolm Brown and his 635 yards, but even though he was sidelined in Saturday's game, fellow freshman Joe Bergeron exploded for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
"We’re doing a pretty consistent job of running the football, but I don’t think our offense is very consistent," Pinkel said of his 4-5 team. "We’re very hot and cold. We’re having to work through that, and we’re not working through it fast enough."
For both coaches, the aim is balance. Brown cited his Rose Bowl champion team in 2004 that was outside the top 100 in passing and second nationally in rushing. With McCoy at the helm, those numbers were reversed.
Texas has shown the ability to do both with its offense, just rarely in the same season.
"We’d like to get back to where we do both really well," Brown said.
The Longhorns finally have the physical running game they looked for last year, but outside of handing it over to offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and offensive line coach Stacy Searels, Brown couldn't venture a guess as to why it's worked this year and didn't in 2010, when the Longhorns won just five games.
But expect this game to look markedly different than the Big 12 matchups the league has become known for.
"It will be a great test," Brown said, "a real physical game and a fun game to watch."