Strength in Numbers: Fast Starts & Rushing Success

Following the Longhorns&#146; rampaging start at Chapel Hill last Saturday night, where the visitors were a catch away from finishing off the Tar Heels by halftime, Texas&#146; record under <B>Mack Brown</B> moved to 30-2 when scoring first.

While it’s expected that a superior program will strike first versus a weaker one, the importance of a scoreboard jump-start is also shown in UT's games against more stout opposition. For instance, in 1998, the Horns scored first against Nebraska in Lincoln, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State, all big victories. In the three defeats (UCLA, K-State and Texas Tech), the opponents all scored first. Move to 2000 (data not located for 1999) and one finds the same phenomenon. In all three losses Texas suffered, the opponents struck first. In the revenge rout over the Aggies, however, Texas rung up the first points. Several examples last fall further cement this trend. The lesson to extract is that whoever scores first in a game involving the University of Texas is likely to win, especially if it’s the Longhorns doing the damage.

Another number that reveals dictator-like dominance is Texas’ 34-0 record under Mack when outrushing its opposition. On the flip side of that, when opponents outrush the Horns, UT's win-loss record is a puny 5-13. The last such occurrence actually was in victory–the recent opener versus North Texas. Regardless of which team gains the most rushing yards, the ground king is 47-5 during Brown’s tenure.

However, sometimes total yards rushing is more a result of the victor being far ahead of an opponent, spending much time chewing up the clock by running the football repeatedly. How does one know if the one-sided win-loss record in the above situation is due to better rushing or simply more attempts? By viewing the results in yards per rush. In similarly convincing fashion to total rushing yards, the team which possesses a better average per rush has won 43 times and lost only nine in games involving Mack Brown’s Longhorns. When Texas wins in this category, its record is 31-2. This number impacts UT more than the NCAA average, as found in research of all the Division I-A games throughout the 2000 season.

I selected all games in which the yards per carry differential was at least one yard between the two teams (i.e. Nebraska with a 4.0 yards per rush versus A&M with a 2.8) and then eliminated any games with the turnover differential more than one. This minimized the importance of turnovers (we’ll get to that subject further in a moment), helping to isolate the value of a better per carry average. The team winning yard-per-rush statistic compiled a win-loss record of 93-19, or 83%. Additionally, the average margin of those victories was 21 points per game, while the average margin of the defeats was only six points.

A standard comment made by coaches, media, and armchair quarterbacks is to "win the turnover battle." Along that vein, Texas is 28-4 (87.5%) under Brown when forcing more turnovers than the opponent. Mack’s teams are virtually unbeatable when they win this stat by two or more, going 20-1 for a winning mark of 95.2%! [The only loss came against Arkansas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl, where the ghastly rushing total of minus 27 yards overwhelmed any other favorable number.] This compares strongly with, even exceeding the importance of, the overall NCAA figures. Again taking the 2000 season (all teams from BCS conferences), here is the tally when a squad holds a two-plus turnover advantage in a game: 93 wins, 21 losses, or 81.6%. Notice the similarities between this figure and the yards per rush advantage noted earlier that removed much of the turnover factor.

While getting off to a solid start, rushing the ball better than the opposition, and winning the turnover battle are all robotically recited as important, the numbers bear out the wisdom behind the statements. And though success in these categories frequently reveals the inevitable winner on the scoreboard, this is especially true of Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns.

Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column will appear weekly on

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