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.”