Running Of The Horns

Cedric Benson and Vince Young, the ball is in your hands. Literally.

Arguably, the biggest common denominator in Texas' last four losses to Oklahoma is its inability to run the ball. Much can be made of defensive meltdowns and turnovers but Texas wins that 2002 game if the Horns had been able to run the ball with its fourth-quarter lead. Benson is keenly aware that he has produced a grand total of 75 yards in his Red River outings (although the early deficit last season made the running game moot).

Now, Benson is the nation's leading rusher (186.5 ypg), paving the way for the nation's top-ranked rushing offense. (353.5 ypg). Texas has found its offensive identity with the zone read package. The offensive line is improved, but so are Benson and Young.

"Vince is 100 times better than this time last year," head coach Mack Brown said. "We went through a transition last year after Arkansas where we looked at why we weren't running the ball well... again. I was frustrated with me because every year I was saying we were going to run the ball better and, there we were with Cedric -- I think he had 12 carries for 37 yards against Arkansas -- so, what do I do? I'm the head coach saying we're going to run the ball better and we're not. It was like I missed practice."

What Brown did, initially, was scale back the playbook and return to the fundamental football against Rice "while toying with the passing game." The win over Kansas State "fooled us a little bit" because Texas still wasn't sure of its offensive identity. It meant that heading into last year's OU debacle, Texas wasn't sure what it wanted to do when it had the football. Now the team is clearly a power running program that has featured the TEs in the passing game and has been particularly efficient with play-action passes.

"We know a lot more about who we are now than we did this time last year," Brown added.

This season, Benson has carried the ball on approximately 75 percent of all zone read plays compared to about 60 percent in 2003.

"Cedric has carried the ball more on the zone read than Vince has," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "He did last year but the numbers are more tilted this year. People are defending Vince. We have not run as many quarterback draws at this point as we did last year. He's not a guy that leaves the pocket. He doesn't go back looking to run in the passing game."

That's part of why Young's rushing stats aren't quite as gaudy as last season (224 yards total but still good for an enviable 6.4 ypc). Defenses continue to key on VY, leaving Benson to gobble up big chunks of real estate. Davis, however, is more impressed with the kind of maturity and vision Benson has shown on some of his more modest carries. Davis pointed to a five-yard run during Saturday's 44-14 win over Baylor that would have been snuffed out for little or no gain in previous years.

"There was no question that the play was over," Davis said, "but instead of continuing east-west, Cedric dropped his foot and went forward, splitting two defenders, and made five yards. What that did was keep you ahead of the chains."

The argument here is Texas is in the best shape it's been since the glory days of Ricky Williams to stay ahead of the chains. Now that Texas' offensive schizophrenia has been remedied, the Burnt Orange crystal ball is diagnosing a healthy dose of Benson and Young. Move the chains. Run some clock. Be in the game at halftime. Wouldn't be surprised if the first touch for a Texas WR doesn't come until the third quarter.

"Obviously, for us to win (Benson) needs to do a good job," Brown said. "But for him to do a good job we've got to block better. It's a cliche, but this stuff still goes back to blocking and tackling. They've (OU) done that better than we have."

For a supremely confident Young, it boils down to simply executing the game plan.

"We can run on anybody if everyone does their assignments," Young said. "If we don't have all 11 on the same page, something is bound to go wrong."

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