Horns dominating fourth quarters

Tough Longhorns grinding their way to victories with imposing ground game

Updated: November 13, 2012, 1:11 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Forget all the flash and dash of Texas' past teams, this version was supposed to be full of grinders.

The No. 15 Longhorns started the season two- and three-deep at defensive tackle, ditto at running back, with a veteran offensive line and a coach who was sick and tired of winning the way the Big 12 has won -- through the air.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
John Albright/Icon SMISince taking over as the starting running back for Texas, freshman Johnathan Gray has averaged 97 yards per game.
And it was that style that cost Texas in its two losses. Against Oklahoma and West Virginia, the Longhorns could not be who Brown wanted them to be. Brown called the offense inept against the Sooners and couldn't understand why the defense was unable to stop the Mountaineers' run game. Neither were the hallmarks he was searching for when he put together this team or staff.

"For two weeks the product wasn't very good, and it needed to get better," Brown said.

The reason the product has become better -- aside from the fact that none of the recent opponents are the caliber of OU -- is that everyone became tougher. There was no choice in the matter. Tempo and hitting picked up at practice. Energy came right along with that. Feelings were not spared -- the three top leaders on defense, Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Quandre Diggs each publicly called out their teammates -- and signs of internal fire were stoked.

Brown, while quite possibly ostracizing some, supervised and encouraged it all.

"Every team is different. Every player is different. Every coach is different," he said. "There is a key to each, and my job is to make sure I turn the right key."

It all ignited a four-game win streak and talk that perhaps instead of toiling at a Sisyphean task, a cornerstone finally had been set in place. The evidence can be found in final 15 minutes of each of the four wins. It is in that time period that this team has shown itself to be exactly what Brown had envisioned -- grinders.

Over the past four games, Texas has put its depth and, quite frankly, strength on display in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns have piled up 484 yards to their opponents' 298 and scored 38 points to their opponents' 10. Only Baylor has scored seven and managed more than 100 yards in the fourth against Texas' defense. Iowa State and Texas Tech failed to score and combined for just 116 yards. Texas had 17 points and 241 yards in those games.

Texas' offense controlled those fourth quarters with the run game. Against Iowa State and Texas Tech, the Longhorns attempted only six pass plays as opposed to 28 rushes. Texas averaged 4.8 yards per rush and held the ball for 21:45 out of 30 minutes.

"The O-line, fullbacks, tight ends, wide receivers, then Johnathan [Gray], everybody -- just the way they finished the game is something that we talk about on a weekly basis," co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. "That's what we want to be able to do."

To finish the season like it wants to, Texas will have continue to finish in the fourth.

While Texas' next opponent, TCU, has not shown itself to be consistently strong in the fourth -- it allowed Texas Tech to come back and force overtime to win -- it does have a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to its credit against West Virginia.

There might not be a stronger fourth-quarter team in the Big 12 than Texas' final regular-season opponent, Kansas State. That's not to say KSU has obliterated opponents in the fourth. Typically it does not have to. The Wildcats do enough of that in the first three quarters.

But when K-State had to hold strong and win in the fourth at Oklahoma, it scored 14 points, held the ball for 10:36 and piled up 120 yards. Those are numbers not unlike Texas' albeit against much better competition.

Now Texas might have to put up those numbers against mush better competition to prove it is no longer the flash-and-dash team of the past, but one of substance that can compete at Kansas State and in the future.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation