The 2006 Texas rushing offense managed 162.2 ypg. (NCAA No. 34), yet was virtually non-existent by season's end. Longhorn RBs accounted for just 31 rushing yards in a 26-24 Alamo Bowl win that was more cathartic than celebratory. Game before, Texas ran for just 70 yards in a 12-7 loss to Texas A&M. Throughout the season, head coach Mack Brown questioned why the rushing offense wasn't more explosive. Coaches insisted that the sputtering ground game had little to do with an east-west scheme in which a stationary running back was handed the ball five yards behind the LOS and then looked for daylight.
Even so, RB Jamaal Charles had just one run longer than 27 yards last season, and that was against Rice's hapless defense. His average ypc dipped from 7.4 as a freshman to 5.3 as a sophomore. And Texas' NCAA-leading string of consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher was snapped at 11. And that was behind what coaches considered the finest offensive line of the Mack Brown era. To be sure, the ground game wasn't entirely broke. But it was hardly consistent and just occasionally potent. Brown is determined that there will be a considerable upgrade in the ground game this season.
A team with a veteran defensive line, a mature-beyond-his-years QB, improved play in a young-but-talented secondary, a linebacking crew with (finally) some competitive depth and the finest group of receivers in program history has the makings for an undefeated regular season followed by a Big 12 title game in Horn-friendly San Antonio. Nearly all of the pre-season publications have Texas ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6, and most of the question marks center on a revamped secondary that replaces three starters from the most porous pas defense in program history.
It will still come down to whether Texas can consistently run the football. The question is whether it will require a Heisman-caliber campaign from Jamaal Charles. Consider this: in Mack Brown's perfect world, the Horns average 200 rushing ypg, but that's only happened when Texas has had either a Heisman winner (1998) or an eventual Heisman runner-up (2003-05) in its backfield. In other words, Texas has not averaged 200+ rushing ypg unless Ricky Williams or Vince Young was in the backfield. During the Ricky Williams/Vince Young years, Texas averaged 252.7 ypg on the ground. During the other years of the Mack Brown era, Texas has averaged just 150.2 rushing ypg.
If the Orange-White Game was a harbinger of things to come, we saw McCoy efficiently pass the team down the field on the opening series before OC Greg Davis dialed-up the running game inside the Red Zone. That's when the offense sputtered and settled for a FG attempt. Next series, Texas based primarily out of the 'I' but Charles' first three careers were on rocket pitches. Later, we were told that Charles 'tweaked' an ankle during the previous scrimmage and, consequently, was not called upon to pound the middle. (It represented a microcosm of Charles' career in which his go-the-distance explosiveness has been diminished by the occasional tweak and sprain. Now, coaches are looking for a mental toughness to complement his untapped potential).
Horns fans can expect the following from the rushing offense in 2007...
...the offense will be predicated upon McCoy rather than Charles. A beefed-up McCoy will get seven or eight designed running plays per game. Coaches are hopeful that establishing McCoy as a running threat will ignite the ground game.
...Charles will not start all 12 regular season games. (Unless, of course, he learns to play with nagging injuries).
...there won't be as much I formation as fans expect. The Horns lined up in the shotgun approximately 75 percent of the time last season, and the coaching rhetoric hasn't departed much from that alignment. ...there will be two-to-four trick plays per game.
... FL Jordan Shipley will average at least two end-arounds per game.
...backup QB John Chiles will razzle-dazzle, late in the game, against the weak sisters on the schedule. There is no evidence to suggest that Brown will insert Chiles, or RS-freshman Sherrod Harris, in mid-series (a la Chris Leak and Tim Tebow) to change the tempo.
Bottom line: if Texas averages 200 rushing ypg, it enjoys a 12-0 regular season (regardless of the concerns at linebacker and at DB). If Texas' ground game sputters like it did in 2006, we're staring at a three-loss season.