Texas running game looking for boost

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
10:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Just how bad has Texas’ run game been against Oklahoma the last two seasons? The Longhorns more than doubled their rushing performance from a year ago on Saturday ... with 74 yards.

So don’t blame the fried twinkies for all of the heartburn and indigestion you left the fair grounds with, Longhorns fans. Blame the running game.

At least the 2011 ground game had more of a reason to falter. Texas was relying on a freshman quarterback, two freshmen running backs and an inexperienced offensive line to move the ball on a dominant defensive front.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns were unable to run on the Sooners.
This year was supposed to be entirely different. Even without an injured Malcolm Brown, the Longhorns figured they’d be able to move the ball on a lesser-heralded Sooners front. Especially with the promise freshman Johnathan Gray had shown the previous two weeks, the added dimension of Daje Johnson, and the way that David Ash was throwing the ball.

Instead, Oklahoma, fueled by these alleged words from Ash, thoroughly dominated the trenches.

The Longhorns finished the first half with two yards rushing and had gained just two first downs. Gray was the team’s leading rusher with five carries for eight yards (1.6 yards per carry) after two quarters.

“Offensively, we were very poor,” Longhorns coach Mack Brown said after the game. “We changed our style two years ago to be a more aggressive, physical football team on offense, and we were not. We have to average four yards per carry, and we averaged 3.2.

“One of the reasons we changed to that type of offense was this game, and it sure didn't work. We didn't run it very much, and when we did, we ran it poorly.”

So poorly, in fact, that Texas’ coaches did not feel like there was a most valuable offensive lineman or most valuable offensive player of the week. Just what you want to hear after playing your biggest rival.

It didn’t help Texas’ running game that Ash couldn’t get things going through the air for the first time this season. He had his poorest performance by far or 2012 going 13 of 29 for 113 yards and two interceptions.

But that’s not the entire reason for Joe Bergeron averaging 0.2 yards per carry on four carries. That’s right, Bergeron netted one yard on the ground and was also brought down for a safety.

The Longhorns’ passing deficiencies can’t be the blame for Gray netting just 16 yards either.

“We played under our standards and didn't play Texas football,” Gray said. “We didn't play like we wanted to. We have to go back to the drawing board.”

Sure, left tackle Donald Hawkins went down on the last play of the first half with a sprained ankle, and that could have hampered Texas’ running efforts in the second half, if you choose to believe that. But what about the beginning of the game when the Longhorns started off with four straight three-and-outs?

“I think it kind of snowballed there on us from the beginning, and we just couldn't get back on track,” guard Mason Walters said. “Momentum and everything was kind of against us after probably the first two or three series, weren't able to pick it up, didn't respond well. So there's some things we're going to have to work on.”

Texas finished the game with seven total three-and-outs out of 16 possessions. That inefficiency begs the question: Should the Longhorns look for the pass more, especially with the way Ash has proved he can move the chains through the air?

“Well, I think any time from the offensive standpoint, you do what you do best, and you know, that changes,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin . “That's one of the things, as the season goes on, what you do best is what they work on, and so you've got to be able to have enough balance in your offense if the run is not there, you've got to throw it.”

If the Longhorns can take solace in anything, it’s that Mack Brown usually finds a way to get his team to bounce back after a loss to Oklahoma. Even in a home defeat to No. 6 Oklahoma State the week after the Sooners in 2011, Texas managed to rush for 231 yards and two scores.

There’s a good chance of that happening again with Baylor coming to town. The Bears have the third-worst rushing defense in the conference at 186.4 ypg.

It’s not known yet if Malcolm Brown will be ready. He tweaked his ankle against OSU on Sept. 29 and hasn’t played in two weeks. In his absence, the Longhorns are averaging 104.5 yards on the ground.

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