In the case of the Texas offensive stock rating, it isn't hard to see the moment when it plummeted. After rushing for 400-plus yards against both Kansas and Texas Tech, the Longhorns traveled to Missouri expecting to have Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron ready to go. Instead, both were termed no-gos prior to kickoff, and Fozzy Whittaker blew out his knee early on. Just like that, the Longhorns were without the top three bullets in their main gun — the running game.
While Whittaker is done for the season, both Brown and Bergeron are expected to be healthy for the Holiday Bowl, a pleasant development, according to offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.
"The nice thing about the bowl game is you have time in between the next game," Harsin said. "Our guys have had an opportunity to get themselves back and healthy. We had all the guys back out there running around. Everyone is on the practice field, and we have some more time.
"I think that is where we need to get back with our philosophy on offense," Harsin said. "We want to be able to run the football. Obviously, we have all of our guys healthy. That helps our stable of backs and being able to rotate guys through there and having fresh legs on the field. That is an important thing for what we are doing."
Harsin said the running backs were aided by Bergeron's development. He was asked if Bergeron would develop into a fullback next season.
"No. Could he do it? Yes," Harsin said. "That is the thing. All those guys, the running backs that we have, are all a good size that could do those types of things we want at the fullback. That might be something that you can mix those guys up with that personnel group, but no. The way Joe has played and what he has done at tailback and Malcolm and all those guys. It is what we have asked them to do, and it has been very effective for us when those guys are all healthy. That is a position he is going to continue to develop."
Instead, Harsin talked about the advantage of using three running backs.
"We can definitely use that many backs," Harsin said. "You will have one of those guys in there, just looking at the future, you will probably have a guy in there that will be a situational guy. You will have some things to design just for him. If the other two or three guys are healthy, then they are rolling through so they can get into a rhythm."
This year, the situational back has been D.J. Monroe, and Harsin said the Longhorns would continue to utilize Monroe's speed.
"Some of the schemes that we have utilized him in, we [need to] continue to do that," Harsin said. "We just have to do more of that. You look at what he has done when you get a chance to go back and look at some of your stats at the end of they year before you go into the bowl game, and he is a guy [where we want to] get the ball in his hands. It is about finding creative ways to try and do that and allow them the opportunity to get in space. That is where he does well. It's just how we can do that and get him the ball and those ways, whether it's throwing it or handing the ball off to him. We got to figure it out."
Another area that the Longhorns have to figure out is the quarterback situation. David Ash and Case McCoy are taking equal repetitions through the bowl practices, Harsin said. He was asked about the potential for the two quarterbacks.
"I don't know the ceiling necessarily, but I know how to talk to them in meetings better, what type of concepts they really grasp well and how they are going to react in certain situations, good or bad," Harsin said. "That is just being together, and I'm sure the same [is true] for them about me. What is the response going to be in those situations, and what are we really trying to get out of this on this particular play or on this field position? What is the best thing I can do and what can't I do? What can I absolutely not let happen on these situations? Those are the things you talk about.
"That is just from being together and the experience has really helped all of us," Harsin said. "I can see it in these bowl practices now. As we have had more time to sit back and talk about the season and talk about scenarios and just really talk shop more than anything, and just get more familiar with what we are trying to get done. I can see those guys really starting to click, and it shows in practice. A year of experience in a new system with a new coordinator and new coaches around is going to help everyone tremendously when we get back out there. Really in the spring and through these bowl practices. You can see how this is going to effect us in the spring already."
Harsin said experience was the biggest factor at the position.
"You can do all the fundamental work," Harsin said. "They are going to get bigger, faster and stronger but getting out there on the field, especially at that position, is something that you can't really train a guy for. You can go through scenarios on tape, but you have to get out there and get in the fire. They have done some really good things, and we have done some bad things. Now we have to build on the good things and go back and look at what we did poorly and why. We have done these things in practice, and they have improved on those areas. That will continue through spring, and I think just that experience of playing in some of these games has really helped [them].
"Especially in these bowl practices, we use this bowl as a springboard really into the offseason," Harsin said. "What is our standard? What are our expectations? They have changed. They have changed each week. Now we know what we are doing, and we know how to do it. We know where we are going, and we know how to prepare. Now we are setting the tone going into spring at this point in practice. How we want to practice. How we practice. How we prepare. [We really are establishing] that mindset. It has changed. It really has out at practice there. I see guys who have done a better job. We are in and out of the huddle better. We are getting up there and getting set. We are making plays. There is energy on the field, guys are talking to each other and communicating. It is a different vibe out there, and it needs to be. It really does. It needs to be in order for us to continue to improve. That has to carry over into the offseason workouts and the spring."