Short-Yardage Backs

Few doubt that Texas' RBs are running hard; it's just that they're not running very far. The Horns have just 29 explosive running plays (12+ yards) through seven games this season.

Other than the absence of No. 10 behind center, what accounts for the lack of home run balls in the ground game? And how much does it matter?

Texas' tailback-by-committee has been good for 187.4 ypg this season, and that translates into an otherwise respectable ranking of No. 20 nationally. At the very least, the rushing offense has given evidence of a workman-like productivity. Nobody expected Texas to match its record-breaking rushing attack that finished No. 2 nationally during its national championship campaign. But many expected RB Jamaal Charles to pick up where he left off before injuring his ankle following that 80-yard run against Oklahoma last year. Charles had a 46-yarder against Rice, but none of his nine other runs have come close. Meanwhile, senior RB Selvin Young has eight explosive runs in the six games he has played.

Week-in and week-out, Charles and Young can give you the toughest, most determined 5.7 ypc you'll see. But they haven't given much evidence as go-the-distance threat each time they touch the ball, or at least not in the manner that Texas fans have come to expect from their ball carriers.

"No," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis admits, "but we told them that we'd like for them to."

Young did not have an explosive run against Baylor, Iowa State or North Texas. By definition, Charles has had an explosive run in every game this season, but just barely. (His 'longs' include 13 yards against Rice, 13 against Ohio State, 14 against Baylor, 18 against Oklahoma and 22 against Iowa State). Young is averaging 58.8 ypg. Charles has been good for 77.2 ypg. At this rate, Texas may not have a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in the Mack Brown era. Texas has had a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 1997, the longest active streak in NCAA D-I football.

"Our explosive plays are down (in the running game)," Davis said. "I don't know the exact number, but I do know our explosive plays are down. In August, I was asked what my concern was in the offense and I said consistency in explosive plays because Vince (Young) gave you so many with his feet.

From the quarterback position, RS-freshman Colt McCoy had a 27-yard run against North Texas, plus a couple of 12-yarders against Ohio State and Oklahoma. (QB Jevan Snead had three explosive runs against Rice, including a 19-yarder). McCoy has surprised many with his accuracy, and is No. 5 nationally in passing efficiency. Yet, personnel dictates that the zone read -- a staple in the Longhorn game plan during the Vince Young era -- is no longer the featured running play. Texas is averaging about five zone read plays per-game this season compared to 15 per-game last season.

"I feel good with where we're at with the running game right now because we don't have to rely so much on the zone read," Davis said. "We're still running it, but it doesn't have to be the play."

Texas' featured running play this year is shaping up as the counter play. The Horns ran six counters, and six counter sweeps, against Baylor Saturday. Even so, defenses are still scheming to stop the zone read when they face Texas.

"We've run the zone read so much that, now, if we have the ability to get the ball to the outside, it opens up the zone more," McCoy said. "It gives us a good chance to get the ball outside."

Yet, Texas had just two explosive running plays against Baylor, and one of them was the 15 yards that Jordan Shipley collected on the fake FG.

"Against Baylor, the big, long run wasn't going to be there," McCoy said. "They were giving us all kinds of short passing lanes. Then they would come down and try to stop the short passing game and we'd throw a long pass. That's what they were telling us to do, so we were throwing the football."

McCoy equaled a career-high 32 attempts Saturday that he set against Ohio State. It virtually equaled his number of throws (33) in the previous two ball games. Coaches counted 10 explosive receptions in Texas 63-31 win over Baylor.

"We've run the ball so well here that people are giving us things in the passing game to keep us from making long runs," head coach Mack Brown said. "If you've wondered why we haven't had long runs, the passing game is just there."

Davis has also been intentional in reducing the number of designed running plays for his freshman QBs. He has gradually incorporated his version of the old Green Bay Sweep in which two blockers charge around the edge.

"It's a guaranteed way to hand it to the tailback without zone blocking," Davis said. "Colt has done a good job with the down-the-line option, so that's been another way to get the ball on the perimeter."

By why such a pronounced reliance on a perimeter running game? Some have asked if more of a downhill style (from the I-formation) behind Texas' seasoned offensive line might light the fuse for a more explosive rushing attack. Davis isn't buying it.

"We're a much better football team with one back," he said. "The reason is we're a better football team with one back is because we're putting better athletes on the field (i.e., with a FB). But we still work weekly on some two-back stuff because you never know when you might need it."

Obviously, the most important stat in all of football is scoring offense. Texas is No. 2 nationally by scoring 42.7 ppg, taking advantage of the shortened fields that have come courtesy of its defense and special teams. (The defense and special teams have also scored seven TDs this season).

GAME EXPLOSIVES (running game)
North Texas 2
Ohio State 8
Rice 8
OU 5
Baylor 2

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