Running of the Horns

Texas coach Mack Brown forced the issue with the ground game in Saturday's home-opener, hoping that a practiced rushing attack would pay dividends "down the road." So, is there any concern that the rushing offense was less-than-explosive against lightly-regarded North Texas now that "the road" turns toward top-ranked Ohio State?

"I was disappointed at half time, to be honest," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "At halftime, we made a conscious effort to run the ball because we've got to get better at that."

The Horns generated just two explosive running plays (12+ yards) while netting 212 yards on 44 carries (4.8 ypc). Texas rarely tested the middle against a Mean Green defense that put seven in the box. Instead, the Horns relied on stretch plays but typically found that the real estate was limited at the edges.

"I thought the backs were looking for big plays," Davis said. "It's not uncommon for a first ballgame. I was pleased with the way we ran the ball over the course of the game."

In Brown's perfect world, the Horns run for 250 yard and pass for 250 yards. But North Texas' defense was better than expected, Brown insisted, adding that the Mean Green was geared to stop Zone Read plays.

"They played smart and wadded them up (on the LOS). They moved them, they blitzed them, and took chances. I told our coaches to keep running it."

The ground game was most effective when Texas ran counters off the zone read, while the longest run of the day was QB Colt McCoy's 27-yarder on the QB draw.

"We wanted to be stubborn and run the football," Brown said. "They were giving us the ability to throw as much as we wanted to because they felt like their chance to win was to stop the run and make Colt throw the ball downfield. They thought if he had a bad day, some tipped balls or some sacks, they might have a chance. They blitzed us a lot. Early in the game, I asked our offensive staff to run the football because we needed to get Jamaal (Charles) the ball, and we needed Selvin (Young) to get it. They needed conditioning, they needed toughness. Unlike the (UL-Lafayette) game (in 2000) where we won 52-10, when we threw the ball all the time and had just 27 yards rushing, we decided that we weren't going to leave without working on our running game. We wanted to be stubborn and work on some things that would help us down the road."

Loosely translated: Texas wanted to work on things that would help it immediately. Nearly everyone with an informed opinion about college football does not expect Texas' freshmen QBs to put the ball in the air against Ohio State much more than then 26 passes (completing 15 for 198 yards) attempted against North Texas (not unless the Horns find themselves in trouble and have to battle from a double-digit deficit).

"Colt could have thrown for 400 yards," Brown said, "but that wasn't what we needed. We needed to see that the offensive line was protecting and coming off the ball. If you have the edge in rushing yards, you're probably going to win the ballgame unless you have too many turnovers."

The North Texas game got out of hand so early that coaches began liberal substitutions by the second quarter. Neither Young nor Charles did not play in the final frame. By then, Charles owned the only other explosive running play in the game (a 13-yarder). He led all rushers with 77 yards on 15 carries (5.5 ypc).

Young is slated to, again, get the starting nod Saturday.

"Selvin is a really good player and he's our team leader," Brown said. "We do need him to take a major role in our games."

Charles remains college football's most publicized backup, but the word 'starter' is a relative term in the Longhorn vernacular: Charles had just two more carries than Young.

"We think both of those guys are starters," Davis said. "When we declare a guy the starter, I don't even need to know that he's in the game because it doesn't affect anything I call. But if you get in a game and one of them gets really hot, he's going to get more touches than the other one. I just think Selvin is a little more complete."

Except for a Jevan Snead hitch pass, the Horns ran the ball (and, consequently, the clock) during a lopsided fourth quarter. But the overall emphases on the ground game, Davis insists, is no indication that he has prepared a conservative game plan for the biggest home game in program history.

"We'll do whatever the game calls for," Davis said. "We threw it 40 times in the Rose Bowl. If it calls for that Saturday, we're not afraid to do that. I'm comfortable with Colt, our receivers and our protection. But we always want to be able to run the ball. And it's not because we're stubborn; it's because you're protection is so much better when you can run the ball."

Horns Digest Top Stories