A priority for Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis is to jumpstart what was an inconsistent running game in 2006. And the running question throughout the off-season was whether Texas will base more out of the 'I' formation this season. Well?....
Texas lined up in the 'I' exactly 21 percent of the time last season, Davis said. But it was also a year when the running game was far from explosive. It averaged 162.2 ypg (NCAA No. 34), yet was virtually non-existent by season's end, managing just 70 yards, respectively, in both the Texas A&M and Iowa (Alamo Bowl) games. There were only four runs of 27+ yards all year. Optimally, coaches have said Texas should average 200+ rushing ypg -- a goal that was attained just three times in 2006.
As such, a portion of sports media and fans have asked if Texas should feature more of a downhill, power football attack with the QB under center. But the rhetoric has surfaced with questions: Does the I formation lend itself to RB Jamaal Charles' strong suits? Does Texas have the FBs for the scheme? Or, the interior linemen, for that matter? And should Texas play to its overall strengths which, arguably, are its deepest and most talented corps of WRs in program history and one of college football's most accurate passers?
"One of the things you have to consider is if you're putting your best 11 players on the field," Davis said. "The second thing is what are you doing to the defense, and what does that formation allow them to do to you. The obvious 'pro' to that formation is you can turn around and put the ball in the tailback's hands. The 'negative' is -- and it hasn't always been the case -- is that formation creates a safety down in the box most of the time. If you're getting into a run-formation, they're getting into a run-defense."
Coaches have charted every run Charles has made the past two seasons. Survey says:
"Every snap he's had from the 'gun, he's averaged 6.6 yards-per-carry," Davis reports. "Every snap he's carried from the home position, or the tailback position, he's averaged 6.1. There is a misunderstanding that his production goes up when we put him in the 'I."
At the same time, Charles' average yards-per-carry dipped from 7.4 his freshman year to 5.3 as a sophomore. Obviously, the sheer presence of Vince Young opened up the running game from mid-2003 until the famous final scene of the national championship season. At the same time, Charles spent all but one game last season behind RB Selvin Young. Both contended with nagging injuries.
"Jamaal was disappointed in his season last year," Davis said. "It was a little inconsistent, and that's not uncommon. Most sophomore backs, for whatever reason, have a tendency to start looking for the big play. He did that some and, because of it, he was inconsistent. He's put on some weight. He understands he's the guy. He needs to have a really good year for us to be good, and I think he will."
The other part of the equation is whether Texas has a bona fide FB in order to base out of the I. Currently, RS-freshman Antwan Cobb and junior Luke Tiemann (a couple of Pflugerville products) are in a heated battle for that spot. And coaches will likely turn to Derek Lokey as the designated driver in short-yardage and goal line situations. (One can easily argue that not only was Lokey's season-ending injury at Nebraska the costliest for the defense, it was even more detrimental to the offense. Fourth-and-goal on the opening drive at Kansas State? Fourth-and-one on the opening series against Texas A&M? A healthy Lokey would, in all probability, been in on those scrums).
"Derek is a tremendous leader and he wants to (carry the ball)," Davis said. "That's a spot he really looks forward to. He brings a toughness and a physicality to that position. And he catches the ball pretty well. Now, he wants some passes; he wants some runs. We're just going to take it slow and see where it goes."
If coaches had their druthers, someone other than Lokey will emerge as a short-yardage back. You can pencil in junior Chris Ogbonnaya who, coaches said, would be the No. 2 RB if the season were to start tomorrow. Ogbonnaya enjoyed a solid spring, where he trained at both RB and FB.
The other aspect of the running game that has already been determined is that the bread-and-butter will not be plays off the Zone Read that Young ran to perfection.
"We won't feature the Zone Read," Davis said. "We didn't feature it as much last year. We've done more things in the off-season to create ways to get the ball into the backs' hands that we don't have to read. Colt can do some of that (reads), but it certainly won't be our feature (play). We've done some things that are dedicated to the backs because that is a great personnel group for us. We want to be able to run the ball better down the stretch than we did last year."
For now, it wouldn't be a stretch to project Texas will base more out of the I in 2007 -- but not significantly more.
"We are certainly looking at ways to ensure that we get the ball in (Charles') hands," Davis concluded, "not only in the 'I' but in the gun-run."
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