"He's really hitting the hole so quick," head coach Mack Brown said Monday. "He looks faster to me. He's in great shape."
The 2004 season is shaping up as a three- and possibly four-horse race among featured Big 12 running backs. Oklahoma State RB Vernand Morency leads the nation with 187 ypg, just one more than Benson while Kansas State's Darren Sproles checks in this week as D-I's third-leading rusher at 183.3 ypg. Making some noise is Oklahoma true freshman RB Adrian Peterson, whose 133.3 ypg is good for No. 9 nationally but just number four in the Big 12.
Benson's 558-yard rushing total in the first three games of 2004 is the most to open a season in UT history. The previous high was Campbell's 451 yards in the first three games of 1975. Benson's production, however, has come after little more than nine quarters of work this season. In fact, Benson has fewer total carries than the other Big 12 backs in the current Top 10 ball carriers.
"I had to make a decision Saturday night at 189 (yards) whether to leave him in there or not," Brown told IT. "I saw Alabama lose their quarterback for the year (on Sept. 19) with a 38-3 lead against Western Carolina. Other kids deserve to play and need to play. I don't know the difference between 189 yards and 200. I'm trying to do what's best for this team, and he'll get his. And he was great. He didn't get mad."
Opponents continue to key off of QB Vince Young, leaving Benson room to run. Thus far, VY has 170 yards on 30 carries.
"People are so afraid of him because he can get the 60-yard run that there's a bunch of them out there," Brown said. "I figure somebody's going to (back off VY) at some point but, so far, Cedric's got the yards."
So far, opponents have basically attempted one of three ways to defend Texas' zone read: bringing a DB closer to the line of scrimmage, committing a DE specifically to the QB, or pulling both a DE and LB hard, Brown said.
"We've run it enough now that they usually try to mix a few of those things up during the game," Brown added. "On the first play of the (Rice) game, Vince didn't pause quite long enough or he would have had a big run on the zone read then. The linebacker got to him right before the tackle hit him."
But when Texas goes to two tight ends (as the Horns have done early and often this season), a defense has to play the zone read on both sides of the ball.
"The zone read hasn't been as big a play in the first three games as its effect," Brown said. "I think it's effected the way people have played the zone inside more, and Cedric has made more big runs because people are so concerned about the read.
Benson is quick to praise the big guys up front all season and Brown seconded the sentiment.
"Our offensive line is much better than they were last year," Brown said. "They're the best they've been since our first year. (Benson) came back and worked all summer with the team, and they really liked that so he's closer to those guys since he's never been around here after June until the season started."
NCAA RUSHING LEADERS
1. Vernand Morency (Okla. State) 76-561 (7.4 ypc, 187.0 ypg)
2. Cedric Benson (Texas) 64-558 (8.7 ypc, 186.0 ypg)
3. Darren Sproles (KSU) 91-550 (6.0 ypc, 183.3 ypg)
9. A. Peterson (OU ) 65-400 (6.2 ypc, 133.3 ypg)