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Robust Texas run game fueled by Tyrone Swoopes and D'Onta Foreman matches up well against Cal run defense

Texas has run for 408 yards in two games, and will bring both healthy running backs -- as well as bulldozer Tyrone Swoopes -- to bear against Cal this Saturday.

A year ago, a phantom extra-point block from cornerback Darius White staved off a game-tying score by Texas, as California escaped Austin with a 45-44 win.

The Longhorns that visit Berkeley this Saturday at 7:30 PM (on ESPN) are very different from a year ago. For one, they're a year older. Secondly, they're ticked. More importantly: Their offense has gotten better, while the Bears' defense has gotten worse.

Under new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, the Longhorns have an identity, one descended from what Art Briles did at Baylor.

Gilbert worked for Briles at Houston in 2005 as a graduate assistant, much the same as Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital learned as a GA under Kliff Kingsbury in 2009, also at Houston. "I think that there's been enough crossover with all of us, and some similarities to what we're doing," said Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. "Everybody's going to have the core stuff that they do, and he's got his stuff that they do, whether it's the run game or the screens on the perimeter, or whether it's the downfield passes. There's always going to be a couple other wrinkles, so you look at the stuff that they're going to do, you try to take the things that they're good at their first few ballgames, you try to take those away from them, and you try to prepare the best you can for whatever wrinkle they're going to throw at you."

Dykes, though, has never crossed paths with the 38-year old Gilbert, who prepped at San Angelo (Tex.), just 40 miles up the road from Dykes's first coaching job -- as a baseball assistant at Monahans (Tex.) in 1994.

"I didn't really know him when they hired him," Dykes said. "I've crossed paths with a bunch of folks. When they hired him, I didn't really know him, and did a little checking, and everything I heard was good. I think the guys that come from this coaching tree -- and his deal's a little bit different -- if you look at the Mike Leach system, and the Air Raid stuff, and you look at kind of what Baylor's morphed into, and as a result, Tulsa, those guys, we all kind of came from the same place. There's a lot of similarities, but there are some things that are different, and creative, as well, that guys have added through the years, and made their stuff a little bit different."

For one, Texas seems to be, this year, more balanced, between the run and the pass, whereas the Bears, after seeing success with an inside run game against Hawaii in the opener, found their roads blocked by San Diego State last week, particularly in the first quarter, and after rushing for 21 yards in the first half, rushed for 64 after the break, while throwing the ball 72 times.

Not being able to run the ball, while San Diego State ran at will, kept a beleaguered defense on the field.

After two games, it's becoming clear that Cal's cornerbacks -- Darius Allensworth and Marloshawn Franklin -- are more than capable, and safeties Evan Rambo and Khari Vanderbilt have intriguing potential. Luke Rubenzer may be a step slower than most safeties, and a bit on the smaller side, but he finds ways to come up with turnovers. Luc Bequette and James Looney are very solid in the middle -- Looney was masterful against San Diego State -- but they don't play alongside one another, and neither can plug the middle, alone. At defensive end, DeVante Wilson continues to disappoint, given his physical attributes, and his sack against the Aztecs came because Looney flushed the pocket. Cameron Saffle, even on one leg for much of the night, was more effective than Wilson. The less said about the linebacking corps, the better. Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny caught that group on its heels last week, popping through the A and B gaps and then sliding to the outside, underneath the second level, to find plenty of room to run against Cal last week.

The team that held Pumphrey to 85 yards on 21 carries a year ago lots almost every significant contributor, and it showed on Saturday, as Pumphrey tore off 281 yards on 29 carries. That was San Diego State. San Diego State did not have the No. 3, No. 7 and No. 15 recruiting classes the last three years. Texas did. The same jumbo athletes who felt the sting of last year's loss are back, and with a new offensive coordinator, the Longhorns aren't solely reliant on Jerrod Heard. In fact, the quarterback who piled up 527 yards of total offense against Cal, with 163 of those on the ground, has been turned into a wide receiver in the interim, though sources say he may get quarterback snaps against the Bears.

If he doesn't, Texas still has plenty of options back of center. Former Cal (now Notre Dame) safety Avery Sebastian can attest to the power of Tyrone Swoopes, who bowled him over on his way to 53 yards on 13 carries, including three touchdowns in Week One. 

When it's not the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Swoopes pulling the ball and running, Texas's pro-style freshman signal caller Shane Buechele has been a revelation, completing 71.7% of his passes (38-for-53) for 524 yards and six touchdowns to one interception. Buechele has also rushed 16 times for 67 yards, and one touchdown.

No matter who lines up in the backfield for Texas, the Cal run defense -- which has allowed a total of 600 rushing yards to Hawaii and the Aztecs, and an FBS-worst 6.8 yards per rushing attempt -- seems like it's more likely to be shredded than merely challenged, and that's not even taking into account running backs Chris Warren and D'Onta Foreman. Foreman didn't play on Saturday against UTEP, but in the opener against the Irish, the 6-foot-1, 249-pound junior rushed for 131 yards on 24 attempts. Warren, who rushed for 470 yards on 71 carries last season, ran for 95 yards on 20 rushes against the Miners, and has 141 yards so far on the young season. "They have two big backs, and they've got a big, physical offensive line," said Dykes. "They've really made a commitment to running the ball, so any time that you face an offense like that, you have to be a little bit concerned, for sure."

Dykes said on Saturday that he's "always concerned" with tackling, and after two games, it's seemingly less about technique than pure size and strength, particularly in the second level. With a 249-pound Foreman, a 232-pound redshirt freshman in Warren, the linebacker-sized Swoopes (the only Cal linebacker who can equal his size is Jordan Kunaszyk, who played sparingly against the Aztecs) and the specter of dealing with Heard in any way, shape, or form, the physical mis-matches add up to a Texas-sized pile of perdition for a Cal defense.

"I was impressed with the way they executed," Dykes said of the Longhorns' game against Notre Dame. "I think, ultimately, that's what makes an offense good -- the level at which you execute. I thought they executed well, and I thought they were simple, which is very smart. It allows you to execute at a higher level, and I thought they did a lot of good things. And, they've got good football players. Any time that you've got good players, and you can get their hands on the football in situations where they can be productive, then you have a chance to have a good offense."

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