Once again, the Texas running game struggled to move the ball. At the end of the first half, the Horns had only netted 82 yards on 15 carries and had, like in the previous two games this season, a distinct lack of explosiveness from the run game...well, at least when it was a running back carrying the ball.
Like in the opener, Colt McCoy was the Longhorns' most dangerous running threat, leading the team with 83 yards on eight carries. The team's second-leading rusher? Backup quarterback John Chiles with 72 yards.
Adding to their problems, the Longhorns are now without a tight end. Though the full extent of Blaine Irby's injury hasn't been determined yet, it appears safe to say he's going to be out for the rest of the season. Backing up Irby at the position is 295-pound converted offensive tackle Greg Smith and senior Peter Ullman, who has been more known for his blocking than his pass-catching.
Where there are no issues for the Longhorns, though, is in the passing game. McCoy is completing a ridiculous 77.8 percent of his passes this season and big play after big play have come with ease. He's spreading the ball around to multiple targets. Quan Cosby catches everything that's thrown at him. Jordan Shipley is turning into the deep threat that the coaching staff has hoped he would be, going off on Saturday for 155 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. There's a cadre of young receivers, including Dan Buckner, James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams and Brandon Collins, who've each shown flashes of their great talent. In fact, the running backs themselves have only been big play threats when used in the passing game, as senior RB Chris Ogbonnaya caught his second 30-plus yard pass of the season, this one going for a touchdown.
It's time for the Texas Longhorns to accept it. It's time to go four wideouts. It's time to go to a full spread offense.
This may be distressing for Texas fans to hear, and indeed for Texas coaches as well. Although head coach Mack Brown does consider his offense to be a spread, he holds true to the idea of State-School football, of having a balance and controlling the tempo through the run-game. Coaches have on multiple occasions this season, including after Saturday's win, expressed their displeasure at the lack of explosiveness in the run game, except for McCoy.
But it's that "except for McCoy" part of the equation that points the way. Look at what Texas has: No proven pass catching tight end threat. No explosive threat at running back (pending on how well Foswhitt Whittaker performs when he gets back, naturally). A great offensive line that's been phenomenal in pass-blocking. A super-accurate quarterback. A variety of skills at wide receiver. A legit running threat at quarterback.
As much as elements of the spread have been incorporated into the offense, Texas has never liked the idea of becoming a Texas Tech, becoming a Missouri, becoming any of a wide range of pass-first, four and five-wide, "gimmicky", spread the ball around offenses, but that's exactly what Texas has the personnel for.
It is possible that the run game will "come around", but let's be frank. It's week four of the season and Texas couldn't put together a ground game in the first half against a defense ranked in the 100s. There's a moment when a team has to stop forcing things and play to its strengths and that moment is now.
This change doesn't have to be permanent by any stretch of the imagination. When Irby returns next season, when Chris Whaley shows up, as Vondrell McGee develops Texas will be able to return to playing State-School football. But this team is good enough, high enough ranked that it doesn't need to play for next year, it needs to play for now and that means spreading out and getting the ball to its weapons in the open field.
Texas fans may not like the idea of looking like Texas Tech, if only for one season, but based on the struggles in the running game, based on the personnel on this team, it's time for the Longhorns to get their guns up.