We learned Saturday in emphatic fashion that Texas can really run the ball.
Now we’ll begin to find out if they can actually run the table.
A 43-0 win over Kansas — perhaps the worst team in college football — was the perfect exhibit of smashmouth football that Mack Brown has so fruitlessly tried to install, as eight runners combined for 441 yards and five touchdowns on 72 attempts. Finally, for the first time since the early years of the Vince Young era, the Longhorns are a team that will use the run to set up the pass, and not vice versa. Because of that, senior tailback Fozzy Whittaker believes Texas can win out.
“There’s a great possibility we can do that,” Whittaker said. “Time of possession is key and if you can run effectively, you have a chance.”
There’s nobody left on the schedule with a more porous defense than the one the Jayhawks trotted out, but none of them will be confused with Alabama, either. The combined national run-defense ranking of Texas’ last five opponents is 63rd. This Saturday’s foe, Texas Tech, is No. 114.
“I feel that we do have balance on offense, but when something’s good, you stay with it,” said starting guard David Snow.
The rushing attack has been bolstered, of course, by the arrival of freshman Malcolm Brown and the improvement of Whittaker who, for the first time in his career, is completely healthy. Joe Bergeron emerged as a good third option against Kansas and D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin are dangerous in their special packages.
But don’t sleep on co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who came to Austin from Boise State this offseason with a rather incorrect reputation as a past-first playcaller. Harsin likes to spread receivers all over the field and call elaborate trick plays, but the basis of his offense is the ability to run.
“The reason for our success has to be the change in philosophy, we ran the ball 72 times against Kansas,” Whittaker said. “His mentality when he got here was that we needed to rush for 200 yards each game.”
At Boise State, Harsin enjoyed the luxury of having Kellen Moore as quarterback. At Texas, he doesn’t have anybody close to Moore, so he’s had to find even more ways to run the ball. His most recent — and smartest — wrinkle was moving offensive tackle Luke Poehlmann to tight end.
“He set the edge,” Harsin said after the Kansas game. “He got us out there on the perimeter by just being physical and being a bigger guy there on the edge, and it helped the run game.”
The past few Augusts, Mack Brown has insisted Texas will become a power-running team, only to throw the plan out the window after the first few games. This year, it’s actually working.
“When we had Colt McCoy, we didn’t need to run the ball because we threw it so well,” Snow said. “But each team changes and at the end of the game, if you’re still winning, that’s all that matters.”
The offensive line has played well, especially considering most of them have spent their careers moving backwards, rather than forwards.
“We’re more downhill-focused,” Snow said. “We love to run block. We’re Texas, we recruit the best. We have guys who can either run- or pass-block. These are guys who have been pass-blocking their whole careers, and we still ran it for 400 yards Saturday.”
It would be smart to continue moving forward. No offense to David Ash, but he’s not exactly ready to be slinging the ball 30 times a game. And Texas shouldn’t need him to. After all, it was Darrell Royal — the namesake of the stadium — who once said that three things can happen while throwing the ball, and only one of them is good.
“By running, we’re putting the offense in manageable down-and-distance situations,” Whittaker said. “And the passing game has become a compliment to the run game, which is a lot different than in the past years.”
Texas isn’t even eligible for a bowl yet, so maybe it’s too early to talk about running the table, even if there’s only one ranked opponent left on the schedule.
But hey, at least we’re talking about it.
Printed on Tuesday, November 1, 2011, as: Horns' dominant rushing attack could allow them to win final five games