Conference Preview: Running Backs

Malcolm Brown has emerged as the go-to back in the Longhorns' backfield. Find out what that means for continued success this season.

Like at quarterback, running back returned an incumbent who didn't necessarily have the full faith of the fanbase. But unlike at quarterback, the running back newcomer who took over actually added value to the veteran.

In 2010, the Longhorns ran a combination of Cody Johnson, Fozzy Whittaker and Tre Newton. All suffered injuries, which meant that each started games. But Newton was felled by recurring concussions, ending his football career. Then, before the 2011 season, Johnson moved to a fullback and short-yardage role, leaving Whittaker as the last man standing and de facto starter over a pair of talented newcomers in Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.

As such, the feeling was that it was Whittaker's job, for now, and that's precisely what happened. Whittaker held the flag just long enough for Brown to take it from him. Whittaker started the first two games, gaining just 37 yards on 13 carries (2.8 per rush), though Brown actually received the bulk of the carries, wearing down defenses late with 30 carries for 154 yards (5.1) over those same two contests.

That was enough to earn Brown the starting job against UCLA in game three, and he delivered with 110 yards on 22 carries and his first touchdown in a Longhorn jersey (accomplished, amazingly, minus one shoe). And Brown's job allowed the shifty Whittaker, used as a change-of-pace back, to enjoy his best performance of the year, rushing for 63 yards on eight carries. Whittaker is also tied for third on the team with six catches, which he has taken for 67 yards and a touchdown.

That's where the Longhorns sit heading into conference play, with Brown-Whittaker looking like a salty one-two punch. And that's not counting Bergeron — who is averaging 5.6 yards per tote — nor D.J. Monroe, who has 12 offensive touches on the year for a combined 115 yards. And Johnson has been his usual bull-headed self on short-yardage situations, converting multiple first downs and finding the end zone four times.

Quick Hit Analysis: Running back may be one of the biggest positives on the team, with the Longhorns having a bevy of backs including a high-level go-to-guy in Brown and a series of other players who fit a multitude of situations. If Texas doesn't have the best running back group in the Big 12, it's probably the deepest.

Grade: A

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