Coming into the season, many believed Texas’ biggest asset would be its stable of talented and experienced running backs.
After a dominating performance in which the Longhorns rushed for 359 yards in Week 1, Texas’ ground attack scuffled, averaging just 128 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry over the next two games — both losses.
Texas turned things around in a major way against Kansas State on Saturday, racking up 227 yards on the ground on 47 carries while rushing for three touchdowns. Not coincidentally, this rejuvenated performance by the backfield guided the Longhorns to their first victory in three contests. Junior running back Malcolm Brown believes the running backs possess an extremely high ceiling.
“It can be great,” Brown said. “The offensive line was opening up those holes. We can find them if they’re out there. It was great and we can do things like that every week.”
Brown turned in his best performance of the season against the Wildcats with 40 rushing yards and a touchdown, but it was sophomore running back Johnathan Gray who stole the show. Gray ran for a career-high 141 yards while scoring two touchdowns, and he believes the Texas offensive line was the key to the group’s turnaround.
“Our offensive line did a great job this week — preparation, knowing the schemes, what K-State was going to bring at us,” Gray said. “They did a great job of blocking. I had some big open holes. Our job as backs was to hit them and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Longhorns know they are at their best when the running backs are setting the tempo for the offense, as evidenced by last Saturday’s performance. While the running backs garnered most of the attention following the win, co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite believes every member of the Texas offense deserves credit for the ground game’s turnaround.
“I thought it was a great team effort. I thought we did a good job up front blocking,” Applewhite said. “I thought our backs did a great job in breaking tackles. When you run the ball, the backs get a lot of credit. It’s the other 10 guys putting you in that position.”
The Longhorns realized their ineffectiveness on offense in losses against Brigham Young University and Ole Miss stemmed from an imbalance on offense. Because of this, Texas placed increased emphasis on improving the rushing attack heading into its game against the Wildcats.
“We really made it a point at practice that we wanted to improve in our running game and be more balanced,” senior left guard Trey Hopkins said. “We came in with the mentality that we were going to run the ball.”