Is Charles Losing His Grip?

RB Jamaal Charles' goal-line fumble against Oklahoma, his fourth turnover in the Horns' last four games, surfaced questions of whether backups will now figure more prominently in a Texas running game that continues to struggle.

Charles will certainly start Saturday at Iowa State, offensive coordinator Greg Davis affirmed. But don't be surprised if the likes of Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya hear their names called early and often if ball security remains an issue for Charles. His fumble just inside the Sooner five-yard line on Texas' opening drive of the third quarter may not have been the difference in the ballgame, but is arguably the most critical turnover of his career, given the 28-21 outcome.

"He's got to be more cognizant of where the point of the ball is being carried," Davis said. "The thing we've tried to do with Jamaal is get the point of the ball up. Those are things we are trying to drill into him daily. From the film, it looked to me like he was thinking he was fixing to score and then the linebacker comes over the top. Jamaal may have just mentally said. 'I'm in.'"

Charles will, optimally, get about two dozen carries per game, coaches have said throughout the season. So, far the junior has averaged just under 20 totes per contest. But that could be in jeopardy, given the premium that head coach Mack Brown places on ball security.

"I've been in so many discussions over the years where a running back tells me he's tucking it away good," Brown said. "Well, not if they're dropping it. That's a fact. We cannot drop the ball regardless of what happens."

Charles leads the team with 622 yards on 119 carries (5.2. ypc), marking the third consecutive season that Charles is on pace to lead all Longhorn running backs. Ball security was an issue for Charles last season, but he reportedly did not have a single turnover during August camp. Yet, is there a critical juncture when Charles is no longer the featured back if his turnovers continue to be a problem?

"Yes," Davis said, "if it was a situation where it continues on."

Meanwhile, Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray had more yards in one run (65) than Texas netted all afternoon (61).

"We came up short in that area (rushing offense)," Davis said, "and (therefore) we came up short in the ballgame."

Upgrading the rushing offense was a priority during the spring and August camp after Texas ran for 162.2 yards-per-game (NCAA No. 34) in 2006. Midway through the current season, Texas' ground game stands at a middle-of-the-pack 153.8 ypg (No. 63) nationally. So, why can't Texas run the ball?

"There are multiple answers," Davis said, "but most of them will sound like excuses. We've got to find some ways to get Jamaal in space. We're going to look at different ways to try to do that. We've been mixing in and out of different personnel groupings. We'll continue to look at that. We ran a two-back sweep in the third-quarter. I should have come back to it because we made eight yards on it. But we have to keep drilling that part of the game."

Oklahoma currently boasts the nation's No. 5 rushing defense, yielding 66.5 yards per game.

"OU has the best rush defense that we'll play all year," Brown said, "so it's a hard week to get it fixed. They (OU) didn't run it well except for the long run (65 yards).

Assuming that games against a pair of cellar dwellers (Iowa State, Baylor) represent easier weeks to 'get it fixed', is there anything Texas can do to ignite its rushing offense (short of overhauls in scheme or personnel)?

Few could have reasonably expected a significant boost in productivity after three veteran offensive linemen (Justin Blalock, Lyle Sendlein, Kasey Studdard) completed their eligibility. The offensive front has been further thinned by a couple of summer transfers and nagging injuries. RT Adam Ulatoski, for example, played approximately 14 snaps against the Sooners.

Coaches simplified checkoffs at the LOS, especially changes in protection, hoping to create more cohesion and less confusion among a young offensive line. Brown applauded the development of true freshman RG Michael Huey ("We're going to continue to get him in more") and the versatile Chris Hall. The sophomore is virtually a one-man depth chart and became the first Longhorn to play four O-line positions in a single game earlier this season ("Chris Hall played the best of all the linemen this past weekend"). Hall played RT, RG and LG against Oklahoma.

Most of the rhetoric directed at Texas' rushing woes have focused on its zone schemes. Texas opened the OU game in the I-formation and later scored McGee on the power-I behind LT Tony Hills' clearing block. Obviously, much of the talk has centered on whether Texas has the FB to consistently base out of the I. Now, Davis is questioning whether he has the depth and experience along the offensive front to rely as primarily as he has on zone running schemes.

"The zone scheme has been our thing for five years," Davis said, "and the zone (blocking) scheme is tough on younger players. We've discussed (since the OU game) that maybe we should do more man schemes and more gap schemes. They (offensive linemen) are talented guys. They're busting their tails and they're going to be really good. But maybe we need to do some things to help them. Maybe we need to help them come off untracked to where they don't have to step, and see, and react so much."

Another possibility is to periodically get the ball into the hands of backup QB John Chiles. The true freshman has yet to establish himself as a passing threat but is the team's second-leading rusher with 102 yards on 17 carries (6.0 ypc) in three cameo appearances.

"We had a package for him (against OU) to take advantage of what we did the week before," Davis said. "We're going to see if there are more ways to get him involved."

Kickoff against Iowa State is set for 11:30 a.m. in Ames.

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