Do you really need to run the football?

With the college more and more pass dependant, is the axiom that you have to be able to run the ball still true? In 2008, Texas was outrushed five times yet still won four of those contests. Burnt Orange Beat columnist Bert Hancock takes a look at the trend under Mack Brown and asks, "Do you really need to run the football?"

"Statistics are for losers," some coaches say. They're the ones who may have fluked out a victory over a team that generally mauled them up and down the field, but made enough critical mistakes to give away the game. But when a side controls the line of scrimmage, the tempo, and the stats in the process, it's normally going to win. And a particular number once guaranteed a corresponding win in the process for Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns. During his first eight seasons, Texas never lost when it gobbled up more rushing yardage than its opponent. The statistic was for winners, as evidenced by a 72-0 mark leading into a rematch with Ohio State in 2006.

But on a September evening in Austin, the ‘Horns far outdistanced normally ground-bound Jim Tressel's Buckeyes in the rushing department, yet the aerial display from Troy Smith and company, along with a couple of critical turnovers, led to Ohio State's 24-7 win.

Currently, Mack's guys are a mammoth 96-3 when getting more rushing yards, but all three of those losses have come in the last three seasons, when Texas has only lost seven games period.

While the memories of being trapped for a safety on the offense's first play against Texas Tech still haunts and reminds you must be able to situationally run effectively, just how critical is the overland department anymore?

When outrushed under Coach Brown, obviously the chance of victory shrivels—or does it? You knew it often meant a loss in the earlier days, flashing back to Ricky Williams' inability against a brutal Kansas State defense during a 48-7 drubbing in Mack's first year. After his first three seasons, Texas was an ugly 3-11 when its opponent gained more ground yardage, further attributing to every single loss through 2000. Most of the time, yards per rush was also at a deficit, meaning the winner wasn't merely gobbling up real estate to run out the clock.

Except for the oddball 2002 year (5-2 record when outrushed), that trend generally continued, with Brown's boys going a combined 5-17 all the other years up through 2004. We may not need—or want—to be reminded that during OU's five-game win streak, the Sooners outran the ‘Horns each of those, sometimes embarrassingly.

A gradual shift in the trend started occurring in recent years, not coincidentally as the game has gone aerial more and more, with both the rules and high school programs favoring the pass. From 2005-'07, Texas broke even in such contests (3-3). Still, struggles against A&M all three seasons, as well as timid wins over the likes of Iowa and Arkansas State reminded of the need for a more "manly" presence toting the pigskin.

Then came 2008, with Texas and the Big XII worshipping the pass to the almost sole exclusion of everything else. Mike Leach has to be smiling, since others have picked up many elements of his trend-setting offense with zeal.

Except the lone loss to Leach's squad in Lubbock, Texas was outrushed against UTEP, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Ohio State, yet still came up winners. When you look at the possible whys, you see a totally consistent pattern. In all of those, Colt McCoy passed for more yardage, had a higher yards per attempt figure, and a better pass efficiency rating (PER) than his counterpart. But against Texas Tech, Graham Harrell got the upper hand in all three categories.

Longhorns justifiably feel they should have been in the mix for the national title, having whipped the Sooners on a neutral field. The opponent would have been Florida, and the Gators got there with similar methods. Against Alabama, with the ground games virtually dead even, Tim Tebow outshined his counterpart in yards, yards per attempt, and PER. Then, with it all on the line, he had a better yards per attempt line and PER than Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

Legendary Longhorn coach Darrell Royal once said "when you pass, three things can happen, and two of them are bad." But even wise DKR often cited that the rules changes would have led to him passing the pigskin a lot more than he normally did. Often, in critical moments, he'd go to that all too dangerous pass and pull out some amazing wins with it.

Nowadays, that method has become a necessary bread-and-butter, even for the once ground-bound ‘Horns.


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