The Running of the Horns?
Vondrell McGee (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)
Vondrell McGee (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)
Lead Writer
Posted Sep 30, 2008
Bill Frisbie


Sure, junior Colt McCoy has been an uber-accurate, dual threat QB during Texas' weak non-conference schedule. But can UT's tailback-by-committee get'r done during its murderer's row Big 12 slate, starting Saturday at Colorado?

On paper, the stats look healthy enough: the Horns are averaging 205.2 rushing yards-per-game (NCAA No. 22; Big 12 No. 3). McCoy accounts for more than one-third of that total, averaging just under 70 ypg. It adds up to a team-best 278 yards and an impressive 8.2 ypc.

The flipside is that Texas' committee of backs (Vondrell McGee, Chris Ogbonnaya, Cody Johnson, Foswhitt Whittaker) have combined for just 417 yards in four games. The Horns have recorded 20 explosive rushes (12+ yards) this season, but only a grand total of six can be attributed to the quartet of running backs. Overall, there has been no semblance of an established rushing attack capable of imposing its will even against the lesser lights on the schedule.

Head coach Mack Brown has chided the media for discounting rushing yards by Longhorn QBs, but for the second consecutive week, offensive coordinator Greg Davis expressed his disappointment in the running game.

"I still want more consistency out of the run game," Davis said. "If we continue to throw the ball as well as we have, I think the run game will keep coming because people will have to make sure they have to stop the pass."

The six explosive runs among Texas' backs are evenly divided between RS-freshman Fozzy Whittaker and RS-freshman Cody Johnson. Whittaker's production has been limited to the UTEP game where he averaged six ypc on 12 totes. A nagging knee injury kept Whittaker out of the lineup for three of the first four games this season. Whittaker is practicing this week, coaches said, but it remains a game-day decision if he will play against Colorado. Johnson is Texas' second leading rusher with 166 yards on 39 attempts (4.3 ypc).

"We would like for some guy to step up and say, 'Hey, I'm going to be the guy all the time,'" Davs added. "That has to happen. We can't anoint somebody to pick up the blitz and run the right path and run well. We're going to continue to work on it and hopefully get better at it. We're averaging more than 200 yards per game rushing, so it's not anemic. But, in all honesty, we haven't had a back establish himself yet."

Johnson's star appears to be on the rise. He began the season at FB but this week is listed as Texas' No. 2 RB. In addition, Obgonnaya is splitting snaps this week at FB and RB. Johnson is listed at 5-11, 255, but said Tuesday that he currently tips the scales at 244. Coaches have set 235 as Johnson's playing weight.

"I wouldn't mind being the featured back," Johnson said, before diplomatically adding, "I like what we're doing right now. It keeps everybody's legs fresh. If we keep our legs fresh, nobody can stop us."

Davis points out that Texas is 4-0 with its current rotation of RBs, but can Texas run the ball when it wants to against competition that gets considerably stouter in October? The Burnt Orange crystal ball says Oklahoma puts the clamps on McCoy's designed runs and impromptu scrambles, rendering Texas one-dimensional, and wins by at least 13 points. The Horns can outscore the likes of Missouri, Texas Tech and Kansas just because these three defenses aren't in the same universe as OU's.

Colorado's rush defense ranks just No. 87 nationally while boasting a relatively solid pass defense (No. 21). It's a chance for Texas to try to establish the run before facing four consecutive nationally ranked teams, including three in the top seven.

"I think the backs are trying too hard to do everything," Davis concluded. "Sometimes they want to please so much that they're not free-flowing. Colt is at a place where the game has really slowed down for him, but we're not there with the backs. The game hasn't slowed down where a back can say, 'Boom! I'll just go take this outside. Coach will be happy when I make 15 yards.' Backs get in a rhythm. One a guy establishes himself as 'the' guy, they tend to make a lot more yards in the second half than they do the first. As coaches, we haven't allowed one guy to go out as 'the' guy. The other thing is, Colt is playing pretty well and we have not forced the run."

It's just the Saturday is quickly approaching where Texas may have to.


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