On paper, there should be room to run for the Longhorns on Thursday against Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders are the ninth worst rushing defense in the Big 12 giving up an average of 259.9 yards rushing per game.
Texas is obviously going to try to exploit TTU’s defense because it is a weakness of Kliff Kingsbury’s program but also to try and drain the clock to keep Tech’s high-powered offense off the field as much as possible.
But who exactly is going to tote the rock for the Longhorns?
Starting running back Johnathan Gray is day-to-day with a toe injury sustained in the loss at West Virginia.
Backup running back D'Onta Foreman, who leads the team with 681 rushing yards, is questionable after having surgery to repair an injured pinky also sustained in the WVU loss.
Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong said on Monday that if he had to say whether or not Foreman would play right then, he’d probably be out.
“D’Onta is really explosive for us,” Strong said. “The thing he does is run behind his pads. He can get in the open field and go score. The injury is going to hurt us. If I was to tell you right now he will not play on Thursday. Other guys will have to step in and go play.”
That means that true freshmen Chris Warren and Kirk Johnson will be relied upon heavily to shoulder the bulk of Texas’ running plays. You might also see Roderick Bernard get a few carries here or there after he was moved from wide receiver to RB last week.
“We have some ways that we can get the ball around,” Strong said. “But right now 25 [Chris Warren] will be our key guy.
“The whole season it’s been J Gray, D’Onta and Warren. He hasn’t had the carries the other two have had so this will be his opportunity to step out and get those carries. I feel really comfortable with him. He’s big, strong and very mature for his age. I don’t see where he’s going to back down at all. He’s going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
So far this season Warren has carried the ball 18 times for 88 yards [4.9 yards per carry]. Despite the small sample size, Strong feels confident in his big back to get the job done.
“I think if we block right, and we should, 25 you can turn him loose and Warren is big, strong and physical enough he’ll get his yards,” Strong said.
Johnson has five carries for 12 yards this season.
As if relying on two freshmen RBs on Senior Night isn’t gulp-worthy enough, UT will also likely be without starting right guard Patrick Vahe, who suffered a knee injury against the Mountaineers.
“Vahe probably won’t be able to go,” Strong said on Monday. “We’ll get him back the following week.”
It’s unclear at this point what Texas will do to replace Vahe. What is clear is that Texas will continue to go with Jerrod Heard at quarterback despite recent struggles.
While Texas would certainly like to see Heard make strides in the passing game this week, UT doesn’t want to take away from who Heard is as a player and what he can do with his feet. He’s rushed for 557 yards this season.
“You look at the numbers that their defense puts up and the thing that people have been successful with is running the football,” Strong said. “But we have to protect our quarterback too.
“Jerrod still has to command the offense and do the things we are asking him to. But when there’s a time for him to take off with it he probably will.”