Run Offense Steps Up; Run Defense Needs To

For the Texas rushing offense, what a difference two weeks have made -- and what a challenge the next two weeks will bring. For now, Texas is one of only six D-I schools averaging at least 200 yards on the ground and through the air. (Saturday's opponent Kansas State is one of the other five). But while the Longhorns' 213.5 rushing ypg is good for an NCAA No. 12 ranking, the run defense is giving up an average of 184 (No. 93).

"In the last two weeks we've had the exact offense that we've wanted," Mack Brown said, "understanding that we're going to play against better personnel now. If we could script what we wanted, the past two weekends is what we've wanted since 1998 -- and we just haven't gotten it. The good thing is we haven't gotten it against similar opponents." What Brown has wanted is (all together now!) a two-dimensional offense. The Horns are literally balancing their ground game with 221.5 passing yards per game. But with the rushing offense's recent spark, Texas has posted identical 515 yard efforts against both Rice and Tulane. The concerted effort has resulted in 435 ypg (NCAA No. 23; Big 12 No. 4). The litmus test, however, is upon us. Kansas State is No. 11 in total defense this week, good for third-best in the Big 12 behind Nebraska's top-ranked Blackshirts and Oklahoma's No. 5 "so good it's scary" unit. "We're not going to rush for 300 yards against Kansas State," Brown said. "Nobody ever does, so it's ridiculous to think that. We're going to have to have more patience. We're going to have to kick the ball better. We're going to have to take care of the ball better. You're still going to have to have your explosive plays because you're not going to consistently drive the ball against great defenses." The recent offensive surge is welcomed and long overdue. But, as QB Chance Mock said Monday, "You have to keep a level head. We're going to work really hard at practice this week and, like I said after the (Tulane) game, our guys better leave their chinstraps strapped and be ready for an intense week of practice. Otherwise, don't even show up." It's all because, while the Wildcats are known for their smashmouth offense, the same could be said of their defense. The Wildcats' rushing D gives up just 92 yards per game (NCAA No. 19). "We're getting a lot of confidence but I don't think we're at that high of a level to where we can't be stopped," Mock said. "When we start saying that, we start getting into feeling too good about ourselves and reading our press clippings too much. We've got a lot to improve, but I definitely think there's a good foundation being laid these past couple of weeks." The question is: has the run defense laid a similar foundation? You can point to limiting Rice's option attack (then No. 5 nationally) to 165 yards, but you can also point to Arkansas RB Cedric Cobbs running toward the end zone. On Monday, DT Rodrique Wright conceded that his peer group still has some "unfinished business" when it comes to stopping the run. "If we can we want to hold people to 100 yards rushing," Wright said. "We haven't done that here, so we're looking for a challenge this Saturday." Stopping the run was as big an off-season emphasis as was igniting the ground game. Now that the non-conference slate is behind us, Texas' run defense is statistically on the level as Baylor (the Bears surrender .8 more yards per game). To be fair, Baylor has not faced the likes of Cobbs, or Tulane RB Mewelde Moore. And the defense has already had a slew of injuries: LDE Bryan Pickryl (shoulder), FS Dakarai Pearson (shoulder), SS Michael Huff (ankle) and LB Marcus Myers (knee) all left the Tulane game early because of injuries while MLB Garnet Smith (ankle) has not played in two weeks (RB Selvin Young also missed the Tulane game with a groin injury). But for the run defense to realize Wright's statistical goal, it's now going to have to hold superior opponents to half of what the unit has been giving up on average up to this point. "You can't give up the big plays and we gave up some Saturday night," Brown said, adding that the first team defense only gave up big play: the 77-yard completion to WR Roydell Williams after "we missed a tackle on a blitz." Now, the national spotlight is focused on Texas during the next couple of weeks. It's one of those deals where if you can't run (and can't stop the run), you can't hide, either. "We're trying to focus on one game at a time," WLB Derrick Johnson said. "We know this is going to be a hard game. It's going to be hard to contain (QB) Ell Roberson and (RB Darren) Sproles back there. We're just going to have to get the job done." Both the Kansas State and Oklahoma games have been set for 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC.

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