Johnathan Gray

Junior running back Jonathan Gray has one more year of eligibility left, but, with not a lot of depth behind him, the Longhorns will have to recruit more running backs.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

With senior Malcolm Brown graduating and junior Johnathan Gray possibly leaving early for the NFL draft, Texas is going to be looking for its next stable of running backs to lead the balanced running attack that head coach Charlie Strong wants. 

Three backs in the 2015 recruiting class have already committed to the Longhorns, each with their own set of skills that could bolster the run game for the next four years.

Committed since April, Tristian Houston is a 5-foot-10, 203-pound speedster from North Shore High School in Galena Park, Texas. Rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, Houston also held offers from UCLA, LSU and Mississippi State, among others. Houston ran for 18 TDs and almost 1,500 yards as a junior, netting almost 10 yards a carry. 

On tape, it’s clear that Houston will not be used in short yardage situations, as he tends to rely on quick cuts and shifty moves over physical running, similar to Gray.

When Kirk Johnson ended his junior year at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California, his only college offer was from the University of Texas. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound bruiser battled injuries his junior year, leading to poor showings at a Nike event last summer and unimpressive highlight tapes.          

His father, former Longhorn legend Johnnie Johnson, said Kirk was only ever at 60 percent last season, causing him to miss games and make a few colleges back off their recruitment. Assuming the younger Johnson can heal enough to play as well as his sophomore tape suggests, Texas could be glad other schools backed out. Johnson has the potential to combine his sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash speed and strong legs into a dangerous back, with the ability run through and past defenders.

Jordan Stevenson — of the football powerhouse South Oak Cliff High in Dallas — is a smaller back than the previous two. At only 5 feet 9
inches and 185 pounds, Stevenson will have to rely on his speed to be successful out of the backfield. He ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp event in 2013, which matches most elite high school track stars. Although he’s not going to be able to transform into a power back in college, his ability to get a low center of gravity and run behind his pads makes him difficult to bring down in the open field. One of Stevenson’s best attributes is his speed, and he runs laterally as little as possible to take advantage of his quickness.  

Out of Texas’ three running back commits, Stevenson has the best chance to get on the field early and often. Johnson is a bit of a wild card after an injury-plagued season, and Houston hasn’t been utilized enough at North Shore to see what all he is capable of. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Stock Up: Johnathan Gray

Gray finally had the kind of game Texas fans have been waiting for this year. He had ten carries for a whopping 101 yards and three touchdowns, giving Texas its second consecutive week with a 100-yard rusher. His 39-yard touchdown run set the tone in the second quarter, and the 40-yarder on his next touch set up his one-yard touchdown run. He then iced the game with a fifteen-yard touchdown scamper.

Stock Down: Charlie Strong

If it wasn’t apparent in the UCLA game, Texas has looked confused when it has a lead late in games. Ultimately, that confusion comes down to the head coach. Despite a large lead and the clock in its favor, the Longhorns still put the ball in sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ hands. Not only did Swoopes fail to complete any of his fourth quarter passes, he rarely ran down the play clock, even when the game clock was running. Why was Swoopes snapping the ball with fifteen seconds left on the play clock and a large lead? In addition to the poor clock management at the end of the game, Strong could have ended the first half differently. With West Virginia pinned deep in Longhorn territory with just under a minute remaining, Strong refused to call a time-out to get a shot at a late field goal. Although his team is looking better, his clock management skills can definitely improve.

Stock Up: Cedric Reed

The senior defensive end was an absolute beast Saturday. There’s a reason he was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, Athlon National Defensive Player of the Week and a nominee for the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week. He had a career-high three sacks, a safety, four tackles for a loss and a forced fumble to go along with his two quarterback hits. The defensive end changed the game for the Longhorns and set the tone in one of Texas’ best defensive performances to date.

Stock Down: Tyrone Swoopes

He’s not a closer, at least not yet. When Texas put the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter, he could not deliver. He had seven pass attempts in the final fifteen minutes. Six of those fell incomplete, while the other team caught the only completion. In the second half, he completed just 2-of-14 pass attempts. For the third week in a row, he looked sluggish and overwhelmed. His consecutive stellar performances against Oklahoma and Iowa State are starting to look like flukes. In the three outings since he “turned the corner,” he has completed just 46.8 percent of his passes.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Entering the weekend, the Texas football season had been mostly noted for its missed opportunities. The Longhorns entered their matchup against No. 23 West Virginia 0-4 against top-25 teams, riding a seven-game losing streak against ranked teams.

All of that changed Saturday when the Longhorns played their best half of the season in the game’s first 30 minutes, and the defense held strong in the second half to beat the Mountaineers, 33-16.

The win marks the first time Texas has notched consecutive victories under first-year head coach Charlie Strong.

“It’s a really good win for our program,” Strong said. “We just, week by week, we continue to get better.”

The Longhorns managed to strike first on a 2-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to senior tight end Geoff Swaim. The Mountaineers responded with a 48-yard kick return and managed to drive the ball inside the Texas 2-yard line.

However, the Longhorns held tough against the wall near the end zone, stuffing the Mountaineers on third-and-goal at the Texas 1-yard line. The Mountaineers came away from the drive with a field goal, but the goal-line stand made a statement.

“I think that kind of set the momentum,” senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “The crowd was into it; the defense was able to stop them. We got a few tackles for losses and held them there on the goal line. That’s gigantic.”

The Longhorns gashed the Mountaineers on the ground to the tune of 227 yards, including 101 yards by junior running back Johnathan Gray. Senior running back Malcolm Brown added 90 yards on the ground on 20 carries.

The duo was especially effective during the second quarter, in which the Longhorns scored 17 unanswered points, highlighted by two long runs from Gray.

The first went for 39 yards and a score, while the second run followed a 25-yard run by Brown, in which Gray hit the hole for a 40-yard gain. Gray capped the drive from two yards out to give the Longhorns a 21-3 lead.

“[The] offensive line did a great job opening holes,” Gray said. “They knew what we had to do to get the job done tonight, and they did it.”

On the other side of the ball, senior defensive end Cedric Reed dominated the Mountaineers’ offensive line with three sacks. Reed’s penchant for finding the quarterback was akin to his play last season, marking a bounce-back performance after recording only 1.5 sacks through the first nine games this year.

“Tonight, after I got that first sack, I went up to Coach [Chris] Rumph and told him, ‘Sacks come in bunches, so you better watch out,’” Reed said.

The Mountaineers ended up outgaining the Longhorns by nearly 100 yards but were held to a season-low 16 points and did not get into the end zone until early in the fourth quarter.

Texas won the battles on third and fourth downs, allowing West Virginia to convert only 3-of-17 third-down attempts and 3-of-5 fourth-down attempts.

“We had to win on third down, and we were able to win on third and fourth down,” Strong said.

The win was a step toward bowl eligibility for the Longhorns, who are now 5-5 on the season and need to win at least one of their final two contests. Despite defeating a top-25 opponent at home for the first time since 2008, some players were hesitant to call Saturday a signature win.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Reed said. “It’s just another win — another Big 12 win."

Taking a look at the 2015 running back class

With senior Malcolm Brown graduating and junior Johnathan Gray possibly, although unlikely, leaving early for the NFL draft, Texas is going to be looking for their next stable of running backs to lead the balanced running attack that head coach Charlie Strong wants. The 2015 recruiting class has three backs already committed to the Longhorns, each with their own set of skills that could bolster the run game for the next four years.

Committed since April, Tristian Houston is a 5’10” 203-pound speedster from North Shore High School in Houston. Rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, Houston also held offers from UCLA, LSU and Mississippi State among others. Houston ran for 18 TDs and almost 1500 yards as a junior, netting him around 10 yards a carry. On tape, it’s clear that Houston will not be used in short yardage situations, as he tends to rely on quick cuts and shifty moves over physical running. He figures to factor in as a more Johnathan Gray-type back, able to run past defenders if he gets a step but not the guy you want in with two yards to go on third down.

Kirk Johnson only had one college offer when he ended his junior year at Valley Christian in San Jose, California. That one was from Texas. The 6-foot-one 200-pound bruiser battled injuries his junior year, leading him to poor showings at a Nike event last summer and unimpressive highlight tapes. His father, Longhorn Johnnie Johnson, said he was only ever at 60 percent last season, causing him to miss a few games and make a few colleges back off their recruitment. Assuming the younger Johnson can heal enough to play like his sophomore tape suggests he can, however, Texas could be glad other schools backed out. He has the potential to combine his sub 4.5 speed and strong legs into a dangerous back, with the ability run past and through defenders.

Jordan Stevenson out of football powerhouse South Oak Cliff in Dallas is a smaller back than the previous two. At only 5-foot-eight 185 pounds, Stevenson will have to rely on his speed to be successful out of the backfield. Good thing he ran a 4.37 40 at the Dallas NFTC event in 2013, which matches most elite high school track stars. Though he’s not going to be able to translate into a power back in college, his ability to get a low center of gravity and run behind his pads makes him difficult to bring down in the open field. One of Stevenson’s best attributes is utilizing his speed, running laterally as little as possible because he knows how shifty he is, and how hard he can be to catch.

Out of the three RB commits Texas has already acquired, I’d put my bets on Jordan Stevenson to get on the field early and often. Johnson is a bit of a wild card after an injury plagued season, and Houston hasn’t been utilized enough at North Shore to see what all he is capable of. I’d be surprised if Texas was able to pull anymore backs into this class, but don’t ever count out backs coach Tommie Robinson’s recruiting savvy.

With veteran running backs — senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray — leading the rushing attack, expectations were high for the Texas ground game in 2014.

Brown finished the 2013 season on a hot streak, rushing for 841 yards in the final eight games and eclipsing the century mark five times. Gray suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in last season’s game against West Virginia but still managed to rack up 780 rushing yards in less than nine complete contests.

Together, they figured to be a dominant one-two punch that would carry the offense. However, that was before injuries and disciplinary issues mangled the offensive line, leaving a unit with only five career starts under its belt entering Texas’ second game of the season.

Predictably, the offensive line struggled to produce holes in that loss to BYU, and the running backs averaged only 2.34 yards per attempt — the lowest per-attempt average since gaining 2.32 yards per carry in a 2011 victory over Texas A&M.

But, eight weeks later, the Longhorn rushing attack had its most productive game of the season in last Saturday’s victory over Texas Tech. In total, they gained a season-high 241 yards on the ground, averaging 4.73 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns.

Brown reached triple digits on the ground in the win, becoming the first Longhorn to do so this season.

“It’s really about we just got some push up front,” Brown said. “I said it before — the offensive line was comfortable, and I could see it throughout practice. It was real simple for them, and it made it a whole lot easier for me. I definitely did catch a little rhythm, and it just went from there.”

This success on the ground is something the Longhorns hope to be able to build on in the season’s final three games.

“It’s definitely encouraging,” junior center Taylor Doyle said. “It’s very exciting to see our backs run the way they did, and we obviously feed off that as an offensive line.”

But Texas’ improvements running the football are not just a result of better offensive line play.

“I think you have to put into not only the offensive line but the tight ends and the fullback and then our H, which is our lead — our adjuster that does the same work a fullback does for us,” said Shawn Watson, Texas’ assistant head coach for the offense. “Those kids all played really well.”

In particular, tight ends — freshman Andrew Beck and senior Geoff Swaim — have played a crucial role in lead blocking to open up some holes for the backs.

“They’re doing so many things with this offense, and they’re so important to this offense, and they know that, and they’ve been doing a great job handling it,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, Gray finally looks like he has fully recovered from last year’s injury. In particular, on a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter last weekend, he cut around a Texas Tech safety for the score  — a move that he did not seem to be able to make in the early weeks of the season.

“[On] the touchdown run, the move he made on the safety to create the run, the finish of the run, was something you don’t see a lot,” Watson said.

For the first time all season, both backs played at a high level at the same time, finally proving how potent the duo could be together.

The Longhorns hope to continue their success on the ground this weekend against a Mountaineer defense that has surrendered 200 or more rushing yards in four out of nine contests. West Virginia dropped three of those four games.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Tyrone Swoopes

Before the Kansas State game, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes appeared as if he had turned the corner. Swoopes had put together two phenomenal performances against Oklahoma and Iowa State, putting up a combined 655 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, 145 rushing yards and two rushing scores.

But Swoopes took a step back against Kansas State. The quarterback from Whitewright, Texas, struggled mightily against the Wildcats, only throwing for 106 yards in the Longhorns’ first shutout loss since 2004.

Now, Texas, 3-5, needs Swoopes to step up and play as he did against the Sooners and Cyclones, because the Longhorns need to win three games to become bowl eligible.

Johnathan Gray

It hasn’t been a good year for the Texas running backs. With a young offensive line, there haven’t been many holes to run through. At times, the line has also struggled to keep pressure out of the backfield.

While the line is responsible for many of the Longhorns’ problems, junior running back Johnathan Gray has had his own struggles this season. Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury, hasn’t looked as good as he did in his first couple seasons. He appears a step slower and doesn’t have the agility he once had.

This season, Gray has only amassed 369 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while his teammate, senior running back Malcolm Brown, has found the end zone four times and has rushed for 417 yards.

The Longhorns need help offensively, and if Gray can spark the running game, that would be a big help. 

Duke Thomas

For the most part, the Texas defense has been the cornerstone of the team. But junior cornerback Duke Thomas has been hot-and-cold this season.

Thomas got burned on a double-move against UCLA, which allowed the Bruins to score the game-winning touchdown.

Thomas followed that disappointing performance with two interceptions against Kansas and then snagged another interception against Iowa State to raise his season total to three.

But, against Kansas State, Thomas once again got burned on a double-move, which set up a Wildcat touchdown.

The Longhorn defense has been solid this season, but, in order to be better, it needs Thomas to step up and be more reliable. 

Stock Down: Tyrone Swoopes

It was an awful performance from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes last week against Baylor. He was slow running and terribly inaccurate on his passes. For a “running quarterback,” Swoopes went for just 40 yards on the ground on 14 carries. Junior running back Johnathan Gray had nearly twice that on fewer carries. But his errant passes were even more disappointing. After a couple of solid games against UCLA and Kansas, it looked like he was getting his feet under him, but he took a major step back last week. Swoopes was a paltry 16-for-34 with two interceptions. That’s good for a 7.2 QBR. As for the completions he did have, they were mostly low or behind the receiver, preventing any yards after the catch. Things get even tougher for Swoopes and Co. next week against Oklahoma. 

Stock Up: Johnathan Gray

Gray had by far his best game of the season, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The only problem — he only got 12 of them. Gray was more effective than Brown and looks to be the top back right now. That coupled with Swoopes’ recent performance should scream more touches against an Oklahoma team that allows over 200 yards per game on the ground

Stock Down: Charlie Strong

There were times on Saturday when it felt like head coach Charlie Strong was completely out-coached. Despite being just 3-for-6 on the season, Nick Rose was trotted out to attempt a 52-yard field goal. Few in the stadium thought that was a good idea with a kicker who is shaky on extra points, let alone deep field-goal attempts. Baylor proved the doubters right, blocking the kick with ease and returning it for a touchdown. The play calling at times was a bit shaky too, as the Longhorns seemed to rely a little too much on the arm of Swoopes when the two running backs were averaging over 5.5 yards a carry. Some of that can be attributed to the offensive coordinator’s play calling, but Strong ultimately oversees an offense that is averaging a mere 18.4 points per game.

Stock Up: Duke Thomas

Since being burned for the winning touchdown against UCLA in Arlington, junior cornerback Duke Thomas has turned it around. He had his best game of the season the following week against Kansas and then kept the momentum rolling against Bryce Petty, Heisman hopeful and Baylor senior quarterback. Thomas and senior cornerback Quandre Diggs shut down Baylor’s dynamic passing game. Petty completed just seven passes en route to a 31.8 completion percentage in the contest. The defense, led by the defensive backs, kept the Longhorns in the game.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

A week after slamming the door on Kansas, Texas came within a couple minutes of being on the other end of a shutout Saturday, losing to Baylor, 28-7, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Until junior running back Johnathan Gray’s touchdown in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Longhorns were unable to score all afternoon, controlling the time of possession.

“We drive the ball, and we have those opportunities, but there’s a breakdown somewhere,” head coach Charlie Strong said.

Texas’ stout defense contained Baylor’s high-octane attack throughout the first half, but a few costly mistakes kept the Longhorns from scoring any points of their own.

When a Texas drive stalled at the Baylor 35-yard line early in the first quarter, Strong elected to attempt a 52-yard field goal on fourth down.

The decision backfired, as the Bears blocked junior kicker Nick Rose’s field goal attempt and returned it for
a touchdown.

“In practice every day, we put the ball on both hash marks and we go from 35 or 40 yards and we hit it,” Strong said. “We just didn’t hit it [today]; we got it blocked.”

The Longhorns drove deep into enemy territory again in the second quarter but came away with nothing.

After taking the ball 98 yards from their own one-yard line down to Baylor’s goal line, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes fumbled the snap and the Bears recovered. It’s the second time in as many weeks that Swoopes and redshirt freshman center Jake Raulerson have blown an exchange.

“I’m not going to put that on Jake or blame anybody; I just mishandled it,” Swoopes said. “That’s the second week in a row, so we have got to get that right so it doesn’t happen again.”

Amid all the offensive blunders, the Longhorn defense turned in another solid performance. Baylor came into the contest with the top offense in the country, averaging 641 yards and 56.8 points per game, but didn’t experience the same success against Texas.

Aside from the special teams touchdown, Strong’s defense held the Bears scoreless through two quarters and surrendered only 129 total yards in the first half. At the final whistle, Texas had only given up 28 points and 389 yards — totals well below the Bears’ averages.

“Our defense basically shut them down,” senior receiver John Harris said. “It’s just the offense; the offense has to pick it up.”

Senior linebacker Steve Edmond turned in the best performance of his Longhorn career in the losing effort, tallying 17 tackles and two sacks. Offensively, Swoopes completed 16 of his 34 pass attempts for 144 yards and two interceptions. Gray led the rushing attack with 12 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown.

 

To check out more photos from the game, check them out here  -

Senior running back Malcolm Brown cuts through the offensive line, a rare sight with a struggling offensive line. Still, Brown remains confident they can run the ball effectively.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

In their last year together, senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray were expected to make up one of the most dominant backfield tandems in the country for Texas.

Ranked as the second best and best running backs in their respective recruiting classes, Brown and Gray battled injuries and were forced to share carries with former Longhorn Joe Bergeron throughout their first years together in Austin. Following Bergeron’s dismissal, and with Brown and Gray looking healthy heading into 2014, the two Texas natives were poised to have career seasons.

But four weeks into the season, Brown and Gray are struggling.

The two are averaging a total of just 103 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. And even the underwhelming numbers don’t tell the full story as, aside from a few big carries, the two backs have spent the majority of the season running into a stacked front seven at the line of scrimmage.

It’s tough to blame the ball carriers for the early season woes, as the combination of an unproven passing attack and a depleted offensive line has made it much easier for defenses to stop the run.

“It’s just so hard for [Brown and Gray] right now because it’s all about putting a body on someone, and we’re not always getting a body on someone,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “It’s so tough to evaluate those two running backs. I know they may get frustrated at times by where we are right now.”

Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is improving each week and proving to be a viable replacement for David Ash, who recently retired from football, but the offensive line is still a major area of concern.

With three starters out thanks to a dismissal, suspension and season-ending injury, the Longhorn offense is left with a slew of young, inexperienced linemen who have been thrust into the spotlight.

But, with the help of esteemed offensive line coach Joe Wickline, the patchwork group has improved immensely since making its debut against BYU.

“You can see the difference from the first week to last week,” said sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who works against the offensive line in practice each day. “The difference is incredible. They’re working every week to get better.”

A few strong performances from Texas’ defense have covered up for a lackluster running attack so far this season, but against Baylor’s high-powered offense, that isn’t likely to be the case.

Given Swoopes’ inexperience in big games, it will be up to the Longhorns’ veteran backs to get the ground game going, and they’ll need some help from the big guys in front of them.

“We’ve just got to get everything clicking,” Brown said. “We’ve just got to stay positive about things and keep everybody’s head up. That’s all it is — just have to get better and start clicking.”

Texas Wins...

—If the running game is more effective and is able to spark an otherwise inexperienced offense. The running backs, senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray, will need to rush for more than a combined 75 yards if the Longhorns want to pull off the upset.

—If the offensive line improves over last week’s performance. Brown and Gray won’t be able to run the ball if the offensive line doesn’t improve from last Saturday’s beatdown, a tough task against the Bruins’ stout defensive line. If the offensive line finds a way to open up running lanes for the running backs, Texas has a puncher’s chance.

—If Shawn Watson, play-caller and quarterbacks coach, opens up the playbook for sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. The offense will need to be opened up and Swoopes will have to be throw the deep ball. Texas will need an offensive spark to shock the Bruins, which could come off of a Swoopes deep pass.

—If the defense can sustain its first-half performance against BYU for the entire contest. Defensively, Texas needs to come out with the same fervor it had during the first 30 minutes. The defense has the ability to keep the Longhorns in a game as long as it is fresh. 

—If the offense can sustain drives and give the defense a chance to rest on the sidelines.

Texas Loses...

—If the offensive line continues to struggle, which can lead to a poor running attack. The Longhorns rely on a good running game and without one Saturday, they won’t have a chance. 

—If Texas can’t hold onto the ball. If the Longhorns continue to struggle with ball security and turn the ball over, UCLA will win.

—If the defense isn’t able to stay fresh against the Bruins. UCLA’s offensive attack moves quickly and plays with a lot of tempo, so the Bruins will be able to take over the game, as BYU did, if Texas’ offense can’t sustain drives.