Commentary

Joe Bergeron could become starter

The rising sophomore rushed for 463 yards and five scores in 2011

Updated: February 21, 2012, 10:26 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Joe Bergeron didn't get a chance.

Not when the running back should have been given one at the beginning of the season. Instead he was an afterthought. The first thought was Malcolm Brown.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIWhile slowed by a hamstring injury during the season, a healthy Joe Bergeron could push for a bigger role in the spring.

It was Brown who came in with the hype. So it made sense that he would be the one who carried the load for Texas. Brown did just that through the first six games and three quarters.

He had 131 carries before being removed in a blowout of Kansas. For the fourth quarter of the KU game, Bergeron was given the ball exclusively. To that point in the season Bergeron had 18 carries and a 5.4 yards per carry average. Still, until the fourth quarter of the Kansas game, Bergeron had never carried the ball more than six times.

Then Bergeron exploded on the scene. Over the next five quarters, admittedly against bad defenses, Bergeron rushed for 327 yards and 7.8 yards per carry.

A hamstring injury effectively ended his season at the end of the Texas Tech game. He did come back against Kansas State and Cal but was limited and ineffective.

Likewise Brown suffered a toe injury and was hampered through the last six games of the year.

For the year, Brown finished with a 4.3 yards average on 172 carries. Bergeron had a 6.4 average on exactly 100 fewer carries. Looking at those stats, the notion that Bergeron would be shifted to fullback -- a notion summarily dismissed by co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin -- does seem ridiculous.

In fact, even going one step further, as Texas heads into spring wondering who will be the starting quarterback, it might be wise also to ponder who might be the starting running back as Bergeron appears poised to have a breakout spring.

Bergeron is bigger than Brown -- there is about 15 pounds difference -- and better equipped to shed the linebackers inside the tackles and bust big runs. Bergeron also appeared to have a quicker -- or at least more decisive and explosive -- first few steps than Brown.

There is no doubting Brown is the shiftier of the two. But Texas has plenty of shake and shimmy guys. What the Longhorns need is a counterbalance to that; a player who can hammer the ball, keep the defense on its heels and reeling. That way when D.J. Monroe gets the ball on a speed sweep, the defense is step slow in reacting. Bergeron is more apt to be that guy than Brown.

Now that is not to say there isn't room for both or all three, including Johnathan Gray, for that matter. The coaching staff does plan on utilizing them all. In fact, according to Mack Brown, that was even part of the allure to Gray and his father James Gray.

"[James Gray] said early in the process -- we have probably been recruiting Johnathan for over two years -- and he said in the process, 'I want you to get good backs. That is one of the most important things in the process, because I want Johnathan to play with good backs, and I want there to be some depth there,'" Mack Brown said. "I thought that was a very unique approach and a very sensible approach."

The sensible approach for Texas this spring is to give Bergeron every opportunity to prove he is equal to or even better-suited than Malcolm Brown when it comes to the college game.

If Texas gives Bergeron a chance, it might have a new starter when falls comes around. Or, at the every least, Texas would have a better understanding of how Bergeron's talents can be used in a different way than Brown's or Gray's.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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