RRS breakdown: UT RBs vs. OU LBs

RRS breakdown: UT RBs vs. OU LBs

DALLAS — Longhorn Digest's Kevin Flaherty and Sooners Illustrated's Joey Helmer analyze the battle between the Texas running backs and OU linebackers in the Red River Rivalry this weekend.

The lowdown:

There should be two ratings here: Texas with a healthy Malcolm Brown, and Texas without him. Take out his two limited carry games (New Mexico, two rushes in a blowout, and Oklahoma State, three rushes before an injury), and Brown is averaging 116.5 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry. He entered the season in great shape, showing improved explosiveness and flashes of the player who caught the nation's eye as arguably the top high school running back in the country. Potentially the most intriguing part of Brown's injury is its effect on Joe Bergeron. In the three games with a healthy Brown, Bergeron averaged 5.6 yards per carry. In the two games since, Bergeron has averaged 2.9 yards per, despite increased work. But here's where the Longhorns' depth comes into play. Texas also inked the nation's top back in 2012, Johnathan Gray, and Gray has stepped nicely into Brown's void, leading the team in rushing the past two weeks while averaging 77.5 yards per game and six yards per carry. He's gotten better as his workload has increased, and he might top last week's career-high 14 carries against Oklahoma if Brown can't go. Jeremy Hills gives Texas a luxury as a third-down back: he actually led the team in receiving with six catches for 67 yards against West Virginia, and he's good in pass protection. Fullback Ryan Roberson can also catch the ball out of the backfield, and he's a tenacious blocker.

The Sooners came into the season looking to fill the void left behind by Travis Lewis. Operating out of the 4-2-5 instead of the traditional 4-3 has done them some favors in that regard by putting another playmaker in the secondary and allowing OU to use its two best linebackers in Corey Nelson and Tom Wort at outside and Mike, respectively. And while Wort is the more suitable option in the downhill running game, Frank Shannon solidified himself in the rotation to get more playing time as the pass defense backer against Big 12 spread heavy offenses. There's definitely some shakeup going on there right now.

--The Edge--

Flaherty: Oklahoma

The Sooners get the ever-so-slight edge here given that I don't think Brown will be full speed, even if he does play. Gray offsets that loss somewhat, though I'm reluctant to boost Texas's rating too much there because he hasn't played in a Red River Shootout before. Texas has the talent, and the depth, to wear on OU if the Longhorns can sustain drives. But with Brown out, the Longhorns become a bit more one-dimensional, depending on whether Bergeron (power) or Gray (explosion) is in the game. Wort's experience and the ability of Nelson's and Shannon (and Brown's injury) gives the Sooners an ever-so-slight edge here.

Helmer: Texas

When you have a stable of running backs like Brown, Bergeron and Gray, good things are going to happen. Much like the match-up on the other side of the ball with Jordan Hicks' health, this one in large part comes down to the health of Brown. The Longhorns need him in this contest. Still, even with him nicked up, Texas' big three backs have combined for 12 touchdowns and 789 yards on 156 carries. Bergeron leads the way nine scores and 300 yards. That has helped them to rank 28th in the nation in rushing offense with their 209.4 yards per contest. On the other side, OU's linebackers haven't always been able to go make plays and thus only have the 56th best rushing defense to matchup with those three. Advantage has to go to the Texas backs.

HornsDigest.com Recommended Stories