Running game a balancing act

AUSTIN, Texas -- Then there were two.

Not left standing, mind you, but starting to stand out.

Joe Bergeron has firmly planted himself as a key part of the Texas backfield. A week after he picked his way through Malcolm Brown's leftovers, Bergeron took the lead role against Texas Tech and proved he is more than a late-game substitute.

After what was a career-best 136 yards rushing the previous weekend, on Saturday he had a 191-yard performance.

"With somebody of his size, he's a big back but still can run and has great feet," fellow back Fozzy Whittaker said of Bergeron. "It's kind of hard to tackle him because he has so many moves in his arsenal. He can lower his shoulder. He can give them the stiff arm, and he can juke. Just finding a way to attack him is the hardest thing."

That has led everyone, including the coaching staff, to believe he needs more time on the field. But Bergeron was only on the field Saturday as a replacement for Brown. Texas' leading rusher had turf toe. He could have played, but when Bergeron started to churn up the yardage it was clear that there was no need for Brown to risk playing.

"He wanted to play," Texas coach Mack Brown said of Malcolm. "He said he could. We just felt like if he's not 100 percent, we'd like to hold him."

Malcolm should be healthy by the Missouri game. So now the question becomes: How does Texas juggle Brown and Bergeron?

"I guess it will be [a challenge]," the coach said. "But it will be a good challenge."

When to get the ball to whom is the more complicated question. Both backs have proved they can go between the tackles. Both have the bulk to shed tacklers. Both also have enough wiggle and speed to their games that they can take it outside on big runs. Oh, and both can handle a heavy load. Brown had 28 carries against Kansas. Bergeron went for 29 against Texas Tech before yielding to cramps in the fourth quarter.

For Mack Brown, those totals might be a little high.

"Joe probably doesn't need 29," he said. "That was evident. And Malcolm doesn't need 28 like he had last week. So we probably could share those a little bit more and keep them healthier."

Of course, it was Mack Brown who was pining two weeks ago to see what Malcolm could do with just 25 carries. Clearly, the coach got more than he asked for. But he is not the only one. Texas is getting more than it expected from the run game this season, including consecutive 400-yard rushing games for the first time since Earl Campbell was toting the ball in 1977.

"The goal every week is to pound someone into submission," offensive lineman David Snow said.

But the pounding can take a toll on running backs, which becomes even greater when the back is the sole focus of the offense. Without a passing game, the opposing defense is able to stack the box and have plenty of bodies for plenty of hits on the running backs. While Texas has been able to churn yards against defenses like that, eventually there is a cost. It's inevitable. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is Exhibit A of that problem.

The good thing for Texas is that it has an A and a B. All it has to do is figure out which one is which.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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