Big 12: Tre Newton

For Ash, recovery will require patience

October, 11, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Where will David Ash be on Saturday? Not at the Cotton Bowl.

The crowd will be too loud. The lights too bright. The rivalry game atmosphere too stimulating. He can’t attend the biggest game of Texas’ season because doctors fear it could make his current predicament worse.

The junior quarterback spent two years trying to burnish a reputation as a leader. For the third time this season, he can’t be on the sidelines with his fellow Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Rick BowmerDavid Ash is a long way from the sidelines right now, but Texas and Ash are being applauded for the way they are handling the QB's recovery from a concussion
He won’t make the trip to Dallas to watch Texas take on No. 12 Oklahoma. He isn’t attending practices. For a while, he even had to miss classes.

All because Ash suffered a concussion on Sept. 7 and hasn’t been the same since.

The difficult road back

We don’t know all Ash has gone through in the past month, and he hasn’t spoken with reporters since going down against BYU.

We don’t know when that concussion occurred -- he could’ve taken a hit in the second quarter and kept playing -- nor what specifically prompted Texas trainers to pull him at halftime against Kansas State two weeks later.

Texas coach Mack Brown says he doesn’t either. He’s trying to steer clear and do the right thing: Ash’s recovery is 100 percent in the hands of the school’s doctors and trainers.

“I think that’s happening across the country,” Brown said. “I think more than ever before, doctors and trainers are more aware, more sensitive to it and being much more careful.

“When people say that a coach plays a young man that’s hurt and he shouldn’t, that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s totally up to doctors and trainers. There’s not a coach in America that’s allowed to make that decision. I think that’s the way it should be.”

What’s at issue now is not when Ash will come back in 2013, but whether he will at all. What began as a two-week setback has developed into the most puzzling issue facing the Longhorns this season.

Texas is proceeding with caution. Brown said Ash had a reoccurrence of symptoms last Friday -- which could be a simple as dizziness -- and because of that, doctors decided he must go a full seven days without symptoms before he starts thinking about playing football again.

That’s just the first hurdle. Then he’ll then need to pass rigorous testing before getting eased back into practice. Then, eventually, he could return to the lineup. If he isn’t cleared before the season ends, he’ll receive a medical redshirt.

That might be the least of Ash’s concerns right now.

“David is a great player and he has more football, I think, left in him,” Texas running back Johnathan Gray said. “You never want to see him go out and this be his last game of his career. We’re praying for him to get back and hopefully he has a great return.”

Experts applaud Texas’ efforts

Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, has emerged as a major voice on the issue of concussions in football.

He’s treated thousands of brain trauma patients, including pro athletes. When briefed on the situation Ash is facing, Cantu said he believes Texas is taking the correct approach to recovery.

“I think that’s certainly wise to hold him out,” Cantu said. “I don’t think anybody can predict whether it’s going to be a week or two weeks or three. The important thing is, when he is asymptomatic, that over the course of the next week he be progressed through a progressively more strenuous program, starting with light aerobic and resistance exercises and going on to sport-specific drills before scrimmage.

“And then, if all that goes well without provoking any symptoms, then he’s allowed to go back to playing.”

Cantu, the author of “Concussions and Our Kids,” said his recommendations are based on uniform best practices for concussions. The NCAA has yet to adopt standard guidelines for treatment and only addresses the topic with a two-page appendix in its 2013-14 rulebook.

“Right now, it’s a pretty uneven thing,” Cantu said. “The NCAA allows schools to do their own thing. Some of them are doing it well, but others aren’t.”

Dr. David Crumbie Jr. agreed. An orthopedic surgeon at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Crumbie played defensive back at East Carolina in the 1990s and admits he suffered several concussions.

He knows the lack of consistent protocol among universities remains an issue, but he’s encouraged to hear Texas is taking its time with Ash.

“Kudos to the coaches out there that take that same approach, which is a transition from the old-school thought process,” Crumbie said. “It makes the discussion with the athlete and their family easier when you have the full support of the coaches to let this thing play out the way it needs to play out. That makes it easier to do the right thing.”

More to life than football

Texas has been through this difficult ordeal before, just a few years ago.

On Nov. 15, 2010, Texas running back Tre’ Newton decided to end his career, just 10 months after starting for the Longhorns in the BCS national championship against Alabama. In fairness, he had no choice.

Newton suffered four concussions in high school. He suffered concussions in each of his first two seasons at Texas. He’d started having issues with memory loss after the final one, late in the 2010 season, and to this day doesn’t remember the play it occurred on.

“For me, it was obviously a tough decision,” Newton said. “A lot of thought went into it. When it first occurred, I approached it like any football player would. I thought I’d go through the recovery period, take all the tests, make sure everything was back to normal and then I’d play again.

“But the trainers, thankfully, were thinking about my future even though I was just thinking about the present at the time.”

He’s working for the Longhorn Foundation now and has no regrets about his decision. When team doctors started fearing for his long-term health, Newton understood. It started to sink in when his father, former Dallas Cowboys lineman Nate Newton, told him frankly, “When is enough enough?”

Newton didn’t play with Ash but said, in his experience, the best thing any student-athlete can do after a concussion is remain patient. And missing games is a must.

“With a concussion, it’s always better to get away,” Newton said. “If your brain is thinking, it’s not really recovering. If you’re around and you’re still trying to watch plays or workouts, you’re actually slowing the healing process.”

Newton said he felt no pressure from Brown and the Texas staff. He appreciated that they didn’t force him back onto the field.

“If it was up to me, I’d be back at practice the next Monday. That’s just the football mentality most players have,” Newton said. “It’s good to have people tell you to settle down and that you need to go through the process. It’s good to have that constant reminder that your life is bigger than just right now.”

As much as Ash might be hurting right now, no matter how disappointing watching (or not watching) the Red River Rivalry from home may be, that’s all that matters right now. There’s more to life than one game.
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

Spring superlatives: Texas

April, 21, 2011
The eighth in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12: The Texas Longhorns.

Strongest position: Pass-rushers

Key returnees: Keenan Robinson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Acho

Key losses: Sam Acho, Eddie Jones

Analysis: Sam Acho was the best of the bunch last year, but Texas is loaded with young talent up front that can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are budding stars who both were in the backfield plenty last year, and Jeffcoat showed potential to be the best defensive end in the league last year before being slowed by an ankle injury.

He should be much better this year and likely the most disruptive pass-rusher on the team.

Okafor, though, switched to defensive end from defensive tackle and drew rave reviews all spring, capping it with a five-sack performance in a spring game. Yes, it's a spring game, but still. He was impressive and constantly disruptive. Texas has a young secondary and a developing offense, but if the Longhorns bounce back in 2011, the front seven will be a big reason why.

Weakest position: Skill positions

Key returnees: WR Mike Davis, QB Garrett Gilbert, RB Fozzy Whittaker, RB Cody Johnson

Key losses: WR James Kirkendoll, WR John Chiles, RB Tre' Newton

Analysis: Texas has a lot of work to do here, but may rely on new faces heavily next year. Gilbert didn't show much last year, but he didn't have much help, either. He now has to win his job back, and there's no guarantee that will happen.

At running back, Whittaker and Johnson haven't shown much game-breaking ability or consistency, and they'll be seniors this year. Running back D.J. Monroe is the biggest home-run threat of the group, but a lack of playbook knowledge and pass-blocking acumen kept him off the field last year. In its spring game, though, Texas showed a strong intent to get him the ball in space. When that happens, he can make plays. Freshman running back Malcolm Brown also brings loads of expectations with him to fall camp.

Davis could blossom into a star this year at receiver, but he needs help from his quarterback. Darius White looked good at the spring game, but Texas also needs receivers like DeSean Hales and Marquise Goodwin to be more consistent. Malcolm Williams didn't do it, and as a senior this year, Texas' biggest target looks like he'll spend more time at H-back than he will at receiver.

More spring superlatives:

Recruiting needs: Big 12 South

January, 26, 2011
Signing day is exactly a week from Wednesday, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these needs with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

Here's our look at the South, after running down the Big 12 North earlier this morning.


Defensive tackle: The Bears are loaded on offense and have a ton coming back, but anyone who watched Baylor in 2010 knows the big problems are on defense, starting with the front four. Phil Taylor is headed to the NFL and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste will be a senior next year. Reserve Chris Buford is gone, too. The Bears need to fill out some depth up front to avoid a repeat of their Texas Bowl debacle defending the run against Illinois.

Punter: Derek Epperson was rock solid as a four-year starter for the Bears, averaging near 44 yards a punt for his past three seasons. He's gone now, and the Bears will need a replacement. The good news is Baylor's offense with Robert Griffin III doesn't make the position nearly as important as it used to be.


Receiver: Ryan Broyles, a senior, and Kenny Stills look ready for big years in 2011, but senior Cameron Kenney is gone. Trey Franks, Dejuan Miller and Joe Powell could contribute in 2011, but beyond that, another big-time threat across from Stills would certainly help. One of the Sooners' top 2011 commits, Trey Metoyer, could become that player.

Safety: Both starters, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, have graduated, and the Sooners will try to replace them with Sam Proctor, who has started plenty of games, and Javon Harris. The Sooners are pretty well-stocked about everywhere, but more depth in the secondary is always welcome.


Defensive line: Three of the Cowboys' four starters are gone, and it's always necessary to fill in some depth behind them. Shane Jarka, Chris Donaldson and Ugo Chinasa all had good years in 2010.

Offensive line: Oklahoma State brings back all five starters for 2011, but four will be seniors. That means replacing them in 2012, which will be a lot easier if those replacements don't end up being true freshmen. Oklahoma State kept offensive line coach Joe Wickline, a candidate for the same job at Texas, and his development of the line last year with four new starters was a big reason for the Cowboys' success. He'll need to do it again in 2012.


Running back: Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson will both be seniors in 2011, and Tre Newton's career is over because of issues with concussions. Texas would be well-served if its top 2011 commit, Malcolm Brown, can come in and be effective immediately as a true freshman.

Cornerback: Aaron Williams left early. Curtis and Chykie Brown graduated. Texas needs help at corner and will have big problems in the near future if they don't get it.

Linebacker: Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson will be seniors in 2011, and Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton already graduated. New talent behind them will help prevent a drop-off in 2012 after Acho and Robinson split.


Kicker: Randy Bullock will be a senior in 2011, but Texas A&M is already hoping his spot is filled by incoming freshman Taylor Bertolet, the nation's No. 2 kicker who won the Under Armour All-American game with a last-second field goal earlier this month.

Linebacker: Michael Hodges and Von Miller have graduated, and Garrick Williams will follow them in 2011. The Wrecking Crew was pretty stout for most of 2010, but filling those holes in a four-linebacker front will be key in ensuring things stay that way.


Secondary: LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, so Texas Tech will be breaking in some new blood in the secondary for new coordinator Chad Glasgow and cornerbacks coach Otis Mounds. Freshmen cornerbacks Jarvis Phillips and Tre Porter made plays in 2010, but they also allowed offenses to make a few of their own. Stopping that will be a big step in Texas Tech getting things rolling under Tommy Tuberville.

Receiver: Texas Tech already needs to replace Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong, and Tramain Swindall and Jacoby Franks will follow suit after 2011. Alex Torres was hampered by a back injury all year, but the Red Raiders will need some depth around him at receiver to keep the offense humming.

Careers over for pair of Big 12 backs

November, 15, 2010
Texas' Tre' Newton has chosen to end his career because of concussion-related problems after having a discussion with his family and doctors over the weekend.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder also announced on Monday that senior running back William Powell suffered a season-ending injury. Powell did not make the trip to Missouri for Saturday's loss.

Powell leads the nation with an average of over 34 yards per kick return, three yards per return more than the next-best. He also returned a kick for a touchdown against Baylor this year. He's carried 23 times for 250 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Big 12 in yards per carry, at 10.87, for running backs with at least 20 carries this year.

Newton did not play in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State, but he's run 64 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns, with all three coming in the Longhorns' season opener against Rice.

Newton, his parents and doctors decided it was best for him to not play. The sophomore will stay on medical scholarship and work with the team's running backs in the following seasons.

"He's been fighting a head injury. He's done everything we've asked him to here, an outstanding player for us, he's won some games for us," said coach Mack Brown.

Newton's father, Nate Newton, played professionally for more than 15 years, including six Pro Bowls in 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

Brown also said he expected Newton to work in the academic center.

"He's been an outstanding person for us, as well as player and he'll be missed on the field, but he'll still have an impact off the field."

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 17, 2010
1. The Big 12 North a two-horse race. The gap between Missouri and Nebraska wasn't astronomical before Saturday, but it was clear. Now? It appears to be quite a bit closer than when the world woke up on Saturday. A Tigers-Cornhuskers showdown in Lincoln looms on Oct. 30. After Texas' upset of Nebraska on Saturday, a Missouri loss to Oklahoma next week wouldn't hurt too badly in terms of winning the North. As for the rest of the division, well ... let's just say you won't see Missouri or Nebraska losing to anyone by five touchdowns this year. It would be shocking to see the winner of that game in Lincoln not win the North.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireDeMarco Murray and Oklahoma hold the Big 12's best shot at reaching the national title game.
2. Oklahoma answered the bell as the Big 12's lead national title contender. With Nebraska out -- for now -- of the national championship picture, Oklahoma looks like the conference's top team. The Sooners had arguably their best performance of the season, delivering a 52-0 beating to Iowa State in Norman. The defense has been inconsistent, but top to bottom, Oklahoma looks like the league's most complete team, even if it isn't the Big 12's most explosive team. When it comes to passing the ball and stopping the pass, as well as running the ball and stopping the run, Oklahoma has shown that it has the capacity to be one of the league's best. Rare are the games Oklahoma puts it together for an entire game, but the Sooners did that on Saturday night.

3. Write off Texas and Mack Brown at your own risk. You knew Texas had a chance to win in Lincoln on Saturday, if only because of Mack Brown's success against the Huskers. I felt confident the Huskers would win, but Mack Brown showed once again why he's one of the best coaches in the game. G-Magic, Garrett Gilbert is not. But he showed the ability to run, and one of the reasons it worked was because I very much doubt Nebraska had prepared for it. Maybe I'm wrong, but it certainly didn't look like it. Brown used those runs to build a lead, and then handed the game to his platoon of running backs, Fozzy Whittaker, Tre' Newton and Cody Johnson, who carried the Horns to a win. And that's without even mentioning the way Texas completely shut down Taylor Martinez and prompted the second benching in three games for the freshman. Texas was aided by dropped passes from Nebraska, but the Longhorns deserved to win that game.

This was a picture-perfect game plan that salvages some of Texas' season and leaves it in the Big 12 South picture, should Oklahoma stumble.

Additionally, our condolences to Brown and the family of his wife, Sally Brown, who didn't attend Saturday's game after the death of her brother.

4. Baylor will get its chance to make school history. Before the season I thought Baylor had six games on its schedule that didn't necessarily require an upset to win. So far, Baylor is 5-0 in those games and 5-2 heading into next week's game with a chance to end a 15-year bowl drought. It will host Kansas State and probably be a slight favorite, with Robert Griffin playing the best football of his career. For all the cruel fate of last season, beginning with Griffin's injury and ending with a one-win conference season, this year has gone almost exactly as planned for the Bears, who are a couple dropped passes away from already being bowl-eligible.

5. Kansas might be historically bad after all. So far, Kansas has played two teams in the bottom half of the Big 12, and it's lost by 48 and 52 points. That's inexcusable. Kansas ducks Texas and Oklahoma on this year's schedule, but what's going to happen when it plays at Nebraska on Nov. 13? The Jayhawks have to get better fast, and quit losing in such embarrassing fashion. That's embarrassing for everyone in the conference, and right now, these Jayhawks are looking like the new Washington State. Find me a BCS conference team playing worse football right now.

6. Oklahoma State must be accounted for in the Big 12 title race. Missouri gets to definitively have a chance to prove itself against Oklahoma next week. Oklahoma State's turn will come earlier in the afternoon when it hosts Nebraska. Don't discount the difficulty of winning in Lubbock, and Oklahoma State did exactly that, in more convincing fashion than Texas earlier this season. The deeper we get into this season, the clearer it becomes that Bedlam in Stillwater on the season's final weekend may decide the Big 12 South. A win by the Cowboys over Nebraska next week would make that almost a certainty.
It made sense at the time, and in theory, Texas should have had the offensive line to do it.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas' best offensive player has been sophomore Garrett Gilbert.
"We did a lot of self study and found out that we had more explosive plays when the quarterback was under the center in the running game as well as the tailback being right behind the quarterback," Texas coach Mack Brown said during Big 12 Media Days. "The other reason that we feel like we need to go ahead and run the ball more and better is the last two years in the BCS we played two-back downhill running Ohio State, and this year we played two-back downhill running Alabama. And in both cases, we didn't tackle the great tailbacks very well. We feel like by having downhill runs and working more in the running game and against the running game in practice would help us if we go out in conference and see someone who wants to just line up and run us."

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Texas probably shouldn't expect to run into Alabama or Ohio State this postseason.

Maybe the Longhorns intended approach is best for the long term, especially with superstar recruit Malcolm Brown on the way next fall. Texas wanted balance. Through five games this season, it's clear that the running game Texas hoped to establish won't arrive with any consistency, despite three senior offensive linemen and three experienced running backs.

Texas' best chance to salvage something meaningful from this season rests with putting the ball in the hands of its best offensive player: Garrett Gilbert. Gilbert's big mistakes have been limited and the offense has been most productive when the Longhorns have spread out and let him sling it.

Big deficits forced Texas to do it against UCLA and Oklahoma.

Now, the Longhorns should choose to do it.

Its most explosive play against Oklahoma's suspect rush defense didn't come with power between the tackles. It came from the shotgun, a jet sweep handoff to a streaking D.J. Monroe, Texas' fourth running back, who quickly proved how much faster he was than anyone else on the field with a 60-yard touchdown that brought Texas to within 14-7.

It's been five games, and Texas hasn't had a longer run from scrimmage than Monroe's. So much for explosiveness from under center.

Letting Gilbert, a sophomore who will make his sixth career start in two weeks against Nebraska, determine the result of Texas' season doesn't sound appetizing.

But can Texas really trust a running that is averaging more than four yards a carry? Remember, see that number drop is likely to drop when the Longhorns hit the meat of their conference schedule.

Gilbert taking over could also help speed the development of Texas' second-best offensive player, freshman receiver Mike Davis.

Gilbert hasn't shown a tendency toward game-breaking mental or physical mistakes. In his worst game of the season -- Texas Tech -- two of his three interceptions were tipped at the line of scrimmage. Deep balls to James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams against Oklahoma and another to Kirkendoll against Texas Tech showed his potential. The more opportunities he gets to nurture that potential, the better.

Texas plans to play the hot hand

September, 13, 2010
Texas started Cody Johnson at running back in Week 1. Tre Newton led the team in rushing, with 61 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns.

Texas started Newton in Week 2. Fozzy Whittaker led the team in rushing, with 62 yards on seven carries and a touchdown.

Texas plans to start Whittaker in Week 3.

Get used to the revolving door. Texas' three-man platoon of running backs will be played as they produce through the season, and the term "starter" might become meaningless by halftime if other backs behind them take advantage of opportunities.

"What we will do is play the guy with the hot hand," coach Mack Brown said. "So, whoever's making yards, we'll let him stay in."

Last week, that was Whittaker, who Brown said earned 45 of his 62 yards after contact. That's a good sign for the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Whittaker, who is the smallest of Texas' three backs. The Longhorns have tried to establish a previously absent "power running game" through the spring and fall to balance the offense for new starter Garrett Gilbert, but with his performance, Whittaker proved power can come without size, beating out the 251-pound Johnson and the 6-foot, 200-pound Newton.

"He was the most productive in the [Wyoming] game and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to keep the hot back in the game," Brown said. "We're lucky we have three good backs. When he was in the ballgame, he made the most happen. He had 45 yards after contact in this game. He looks really fresh and he's quick. If we can continue to keep him healthy, he's been a good player when he's been healthy."

All three backs have gotten significant carries in all three games, with the top performer earning the distinction of starter the following week. Don't expect that to change.

Texas does away with the drama

September, 11, 2010
Wyoming led Texas in the second quarter of last year's game in Laramie, and they led in the second quarter once again this year in Austin.

Wyoming's Austyn Carta-Samuels ran for a 19-yard score to take the lead in the second quarter, but Texas scored the game's next four touchdowns -- including one in the final minute -- to secure a 34-7 win at home over the Cowboys.

Texas' running game will be executed under a microscope all season, but Texas coach Mack Brown's commitment to the ground game has continued. Texas threw the ball 35 times but ran 29 times for 167 yards -- a 5.8 yard average.

Last week's star and this week's starter, Tre' Newton, had a quiet day while Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson outperformed Newton. Whittaker had 58 yards and a score on just six carries, highlighted by a 39-yard score. Johnson played through a sprained ankle suffered last week to run for 51 yards on nine carries and two scores.

Meanwhile, Newton had just 29 yards on 9 carries, but had a five-yard touchdown run called back for an illegal block.

One great development for Texas was the emergence of freshman receiver Mike Davis, who led the team with 104 yards and seven catches -- both game highs -- including a 45-yard score from Garrett Gilbert that put the Longhorns up 20-7 just before halftime.

Texas' offense has work to do

September, 8, 2010
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."

Longhorns make a change at RB

September, 6, 2010
Texas entered its season opener with Cody Johnson as its starter at running back, but Tre' Newton took over as the featured back for much of the second half of the Longhorns' 34-17 win over Rice.

On Monday, Newton found himself on top of the depth chart heading into this week's game against Wyoming.

On Saturday, it was obvious that change was afoot in Texas' backfield. Johnson was less effective after success on Texas' first drive, but an injury might be to blame. Texas coach Mack Brown said Johnson sprained his ankle on the second play against Rice and didn't tell anyone, but the injury limited Johnson's mobility.

"He wasn't as efficient with his cuts after that," Brown said. "He'll be slowed this week, but we hope we'll get him back in time for the game."

Depending on how much Johnson plays on Saturday, it could provide more opportunity for Fozzy Whittaker, who rushed for 51 yards on nine carries against the Owls. Brown said on Monday it was the first time Texas has had three backs rush for over 50 yards since 2005.

Quick thoughts on Texas' win

September, 4, 2010
Texas 34, Rice 17: Not exactly the blowout Texas fans had in mind, but the Longhorns were in control for most of this game. Plenty of eyes were on Texas' three running backs Saturday, as they ran for 171 yards on 42 carries -- a four-yard average. Against Rice, that's not a very encouraging sign.

What is encouraging is Tre' Newton, who after losing the starting job to Cody Johnson, stated his case to earn it back. He was Texas' featured back in the second half, and got more carries than either Johnson or Fozzy Whittaker, running for 61 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Deep in Rice territory, Newton got it done. Johnson didn't. The offensive line has a lot of influence on that, but the number of touches in the second half for Newton vs. Johnson is hard to ignore.

An OK, but uninspired, debut for Garrett Gilbert, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 172 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin had four catches each.

One other note: Texas' defensive backs could have made this win much more lopsided if they had hung on to a few interceptions, but they didn't have much trouble doing it last year, when the Longhorns had 25 picks, five more than any other team in the Big 12. Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown both had a pair of catches they could have come down with, and Brown's would have been an easy touchdown. Saturday was out of character for them.

We didn't learn a ton about Texas, other than the running game needs work. We probably won't learn much about them next week against Wyoming. That probably won't be the case when the Longhorns travel to Lubbock in Week 3.

Newton pushing Johnson for Longhorns?

September, 4, 2010
Sure, it's Rice. But Tre' Newton made a strong case for more touches, instead of starter Cody Johnson, in the first half.

Johnson carried the ball nine times in the first quarter for 36 yards, but Newton has been the key piece of Texas' past two touchdown drives, carrying the ball six times for 28 yards and two scores, and Texas leads 24-10 at halftime.

Johnson has 12 carries for 46 yards at the half.

Johnson jumped over Newton and Fozzy Whittaker to be named Texas' starting running back after starting preseason camp as the No. 3 back. Coaches credited a leaner, faster Johnson for the move, and he's busted the longest run of the day for the Longhorns, an 18-yarder.

The biggest reason he won the job was his power as a 251-pounder that coach Mack Brown hoped would help Texas better establish the downhill game. But with one yard standing between Johnson and a 7-3 early lead, he was stopped for a four-yard loss on a sweep outside.

Newton scored both of his touchdowns from inside two yards.

Longhorns shake up the depth chart

August, 30, 2010
Texas released its depth chart Monday for Week 1 against Rice, and the biggest change falls in line the Longhorns' offensive shift in the offseason -- a move to establishing a more effective downhill running game.

Junior Cody Johnson, a certified rumbler at 5-foot-11 and 251 pounds, hopped over the front-runners in the spring, Tre' Newton and Fozzy Whittaker to become the Longhorns' starter, leaving Newton and Whittaker behind to share No. 2 duties. Coach Mack Brown says both will play and get carries.

"Fozzy and Tre' didn't do anything differently, it's just the power Cody brings to us, and he can pass protect, he can catch the ball, run routes out of the backfield," Brown said. "With the power running attack that we're looking at right now and downhill runs, he's just a real load when he runs down straight ahead."

Johnson dropped from 256 pounds this spring to 251 for fall and lost 5 percent of his body fat, impressing Brown, who made it clear that the emphasis on the running game was in pursuit of balance, rather than a wholesale identity shift.

"It's funny, we scored 40-something points a game last year, and the only thing people wanted to talk about, they didn't want to talk about Colt [McCoy] being up for the Heisman for two years, the question marks were about the running game," Brown said. "We don't care. We want to run the ball well when we want to run it, but we're not going to line up and run the ball every time. We've never said that. What we want to do is be able to run it when we want to run it, but if there's nine, 10, 11 guys on the line of scrimmage, we're going to throw the ball, because we can't beat the teams we need to beat being one-dimensional. And that's what was the problem last year. We were so pass-oriented, that we lost our ability to consistently run it, and if the quarterback was having a bad day or getting hurt, we had trouble moving the ball."

Brown added that Texas would keep its uptempo style.

Elsewhere on the depth chart, Barrett Matthews parlayed an impressive spring into a starting spot at tight end, and relegated Greg Smith to the H-back spot, ahead of former running back Chris Whaley. Alex Okafor shifted from defensive end to tackle, providing a spot for true freshman Jackson Jeffcoat, one of the nation's top recruits in 2010, to occupy the No. 2 defensive end spot behind Eddie Jones.

Big 12 finds its way into 20s

August, 16, 2010
The number "20" is getting some major play in the college football section of today as we move through our month-long preview of the 2010 season.

And the Big 12 makes plenty of appearances in all 10 of our 20-piece lists you should check out.

Fittingly, we called it "20 for 10."

Here's what we've got today:
  • Top 20 Heisman contenders: Don't count on the Big 12 bringing it home in 2010, but Oklahoma and Texas A&M make appearances.
  • Top 20 college football superfans: Take note, Kansas Staters.
  • Top 20 undersized running backs, courtesy of Pat Forde: This means you, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Texas A&M and Iowa State.
  • Top 20 family ties: Texas, Nebraska, you'll enjoy this. As will the Newton and Steinkuhler families.
  • Top 20 must-see games: Texas at Nebraska is No. 2, but the Big 12 makes two more appearances on the list.
  • Top 20 teams with the best chance to win it all: You can probably guess who's on here, but head over anyway.
  • Top 20 worst situations to be in: Perhaps the most intriguing of our lists, and the Longhorns made the cut twice.
  • Top 20 debates over who to be: Blogger Andrea Adelson tackles 20 "would you rather" questions, with plenty of Big 12 quarterback flavor.
  • Top 20 hot and cold things: Columnist Mark Schlabach runs down a nice hot or not list.
  • Top 20 NFL prospects: Todd McShay turns in a list topped by Prince Amukamara and someone named Nathaniel Solder. Two more Big 12 players make the cut.