Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

The season ain't over, but the argument here is the first thing Texas must fix in the off-season is its rushing offense.

The argument here is Old School, if not (presumably) obvious: you don't win championships if you can't run the ball. Texas netted 70 rushing yards (on 25 attempts against an inspired but otherwise mediocre Texas A&M run defense in Friday's loss. Texas has not run the ball consistently well all season.

Texas' spread offense, emphasizing zone runs where a stationary RB is handed the ball five yards behind the LOS, has turned sophomore Jamaal Charles into (statistically) an average back. Texas coaches have scratched their heads all season wondering why the approach has not produced breakaway runs. But the scheme is not conducive to big plays unless a) your starting RB has a little more burst than does Selvin Young and b) your quarterback is a consistent threat to run. (Colt McCoy is more mobile than most would have thought, he has done a terrific job of moving the pocket and some of Texas' biggest gainers this season were quarterback scrambles, but no one will confuse him as an extra RB in the backfield). It's a scheme that might have caught fire with a RB cut in the mold of Ramonce Taylor, but should have been de-emphasized when it became clear that Taylor was a former-Longhorn.

To be sure, there's plenty that still needs fixing on the defense. The jury will remain out on Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik until his bunch proves it can stop the same kind of Option Right and Option Left that the Aggies used to shred the Horns two seasons in a row. A Texas run defense rated No. 1 nationally gave up 244 yards on the ground Friday. The result was that Aggie QB Stephen McGee (7-of-13 passing for 58 yards) did not have to win this game with his arm against a pass defense ranked No. 111. For all the finger-pointing at Texas' DBs, there's been relatively little mentioned of Longhorn linebackers who have been shoddy all-season in pass coverage and who consistently took wrong pursuit angles in defending the option Saturday. (MLB Rashad Bobino was an exception, notching a game-high 13 stops).

Bottom line: there was nothing fancy to the Aggie's M.O., and Texas had two weeks to prepare to stop it on their own grass. On Senior Day. I lost count of how many 3rd-and-eights and 3rd-and-nines the Aggies converted with either option runs or simple flares (Again, where were the linebackers?). Except for Michael Goodson's 41-yard TD run on A&M's opening series, the visitors nickled-and-dimed Texas' defense most of the afternoon. The Aggies manufactured on their game-winning drive what Texas could not do when it nursed a 7-6 fourth-quarter lead: run some clock by running the football.

I'll never second-guess Texas coach Mack Brown's aggressive decisions to try to convert fourth-and-short situations beyond the 50, but Texas' difficulty in short-yardage situations was exposed again on its opening series. (It nearly cost the Horns at Nebraska; it clearly cost the Horns the past two ballgames). However, we can question Brown's assessment of what he says is Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis' greatest attribute: the ability to shape an offense around personnel. I'll be the first to admit that Davis did not get near enough credit for overhauling the offense and implementing the zone read under Vince Young's direction in 2003. Coaches will stop just short of saying Texas does not have the FB required to consistently pound the ball between the tackles. But if Davis is, indeed, college football's defending national offensive assistant of the year (rather than someone who got out of Vince Young's way), you some how, some way, tweak and adjust a running game that has run for less than three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust against quality opponents.

One can argue that Friday's shocker wasn't as much about coaching as much as it was apparent that Texas' give-a-damn was busted following the Kansas State loss. Texas was whipped in the trenches two straight games against opponents who did not out-talent them but out-hustled them. That has less to do with scheme as it is does desire. And maybe the conversation might be different today if a highly-questionable offensive pass interference call had not negated SE Limas Sweed's second quarter TD. But here's what I'd hope the conversation includes this spring:

1) Move RS-freshman TE Britt Mitchell to FB and run out of the I. Mitchell does not have the stretch-the-field speed that Texas has enjoyed from the likes of David Thomas or Jermichael Finley. Mitchell has plenty of nasty and loves nothing more than to pancake a defender. He could still function as a TE in jumbo packages. Don't be surprise to see Mitchell move to the O-line in 2007, but here's hoping he gets a shot at FB.

2) Henry Melton has let it be known he does not want to play FB, so you give the sophomore the first two weeks of spring football to prove he can emerge as the type of short-yardage back that most expected him to become.

Until then, Aggies can rest secure that Dennis Franchione is their head guy for at least couple of more seasons. And Texas fans can watch their Rose Bowl DVDs. Again.


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