Charles Making His Mark; Could Start Against Rice

In just two games, freshman RB Jamaal Charles has proven to be a difference maker. Chances are he'll earn his first start Saturday against Rice.

The freshman subbed for starting RB Selvin Young after the junior "tweaked" his left ankle against Ohio State and did not return in the second half. Young's ankle injury also caused him to miss nearly the final two quarters in the home opener against UL-Lafayette. Brown would not name a starting RB Monday but strongly suggested Young may spend less time this week carrying the ball than he does in R&R (resting and rehabbing).

"We've got to make sure he's well before we put him back in," Brown said. "If Selvin is well, he's good enough to start for us."

Charles made one particular play in the second quarter at Ohio State that won't show up in the final stats but it may have been a game-saver. The Horns were facing 3rd-and-5 at their own 40 when QB Vince Young dropped back to throw and, while in the grasp of an OSU defender, tried to hit Charles in the right flat. The ball sailed long, though, and All-American SLB A.J. Hawk stepped in front and, after eluding a diving Charles, returned it 24 yards to the Texas 18. He might still be running if Charles had not picked himself up off the turf and quickly covered half the width of the field, leveling Hawk just inside the red zone near the numbers on the other sideline.

"There are always about five or six plays that change a game," head coach Mack Brown said, "and I thought that one was huge. We had a lot of people scattered on that play and Charles made the play. It could have been the difference in the ball game."

The play gave Texas' defense a chance and, on 3rd-and-3 from the Longhorn 11, DE Tim Crowder sacked QB Troy Smith for an 8-yard loss. In what would be a trend, the Buckeyes' settled for a FG and never pushed their lead beyond six points.

To be honest, Brown was unaware that Charles covered so much ground to stop Hawk until he watched the game film for the first time in the wee hours Sunday morning.

"I was shocked by the hit he put on Hawk," Brown said. "I wanted to call (Charles) but I was sure he was asleep at 7 a.m. He got up off the ground, chased him down and put a great hit on him."

Just two weeks ago, Brown said coaches would move WR Ramonce Taylor back to RB if Young could not play. Now, Brown seems comfortable enough in what he has seen from Charles that the freshman could very well open with the first-team O this Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Typically, it has taken a devastating loss to Oklahoma before Brown would insert (trust?) offensive playmakers in the starting lineup. After all, that was the case with Benson, Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Vince Young. Their subsequent contributions are no small part of why a head coach with an obvious proclivity toward upper classmen has warmed up to freshmen.

"We can't be afraid if we're going to put them in," Brown said. "We told them that if we put them in, they're going to play."

Brown referenced two key plays by Charles that helped put points on the board. The first play occurred on Texas' final drive of the first half. Thanks (in part) to consecutive Longhorn turnovers, the Buckeyes reeled off 16 unanswered points to erase Texas' early 10-0 lead. The Horns badly needed to put points on the board just before the break and take some momentum into the locker room. On 1st-and-10 from the Buckeye 46, Charles converted a short pass into a 36-yard scamper, with half of those yards coming after he lowered his shoulder and barreled through an attempted tackle by OSU's 6-3, 220-pound senior free safety Nate Salley. That set up David Pino's 37-yard FG and cut into the Ohio State lead, 16-13. Just as important, the Horns knew they had dodged a dagger in the second quarter and that this one was set up to go down to the wire.

When the game, in fact, came down to the wire, Charles contributed his other key offensive play of the contest. Facing 3rd-and-6 at the Buckeye 48 with under five minutes to play, VY hooked up with Charles again for a critical 8-yard completion. Two plays later, VY found Charles for another eight-yard completion. That set up a very make-able 3rd-and-1 conversion at the Buckeye 30. And it led to VY's climactic 24-yard TD toss to SE Limas Sweed to take the lead for the good with 2:37 remaining.

Charles' numbers against Ohio State aren't eye-popping. He was held to 24 yards on ten carries but demonstrated his versatility with 69 receiving yards on six grabs. His 135 yards on 14 totes against UL-Lafayette set a UT freshman debut rushing record, breaking Ramonce Taylor's mark of 96 yards set last season. Yet, Charles had his hand in so many of Texas' key possessions in what will be its biggest win of the regular season that the 25-22 win over then No. 4 Ohio State could accurately be described as his coming-out party.

It is premature at this juncture to compare Charles to either Cedric Benson or Ricky Williams, but it is fair to say that Brown has never had such a complete running back this early in the career. Charles can pass block, pick up blitzes and has great hands out of the backfield. Strictly as a ball carrier, Charles combines the power and speed that Brown covets in a RB. One of best assets, however, is an intangible that many of the greats have at their disposal: the kind of vision that allows them to see nearly the entire field.

"I'm really impressed with his maturity and his football knowledge," Brown said. "He knows where to go."

Texas hosts Rice at 6 p.m. (Central) on a Fox Sports Net telecast.

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