Coming into the season, Texas planned on heavily using junior quarterback David Ash’s ability to run the ball in its revamped up-tempo offense.
This plan hit a snag after Ash suffered a concussion on Sept. 7 against BYU, causing him to miss five of the Longhorns’ next six games and each of their last four. But senior quarterback Case McCoy has filled in during Ash’s absence, and this is largely because of Texas’ ability to adjust its offensive identity with McCoy in the lineup.
“Case is not a guy that’s going to run the option,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to beat you with the quarterback draw. He’s not a guy that’s going to beat you scrambling very often. We felt like his strength is throwing the ball, and if we can protect him and let him sit there, he’s accurate, and that would happen off of play-action pass.”
McCoy’s skill set as a pocket passer has caused the Longhorns to place a greater emphasis on their talented stable of running backs, which has paid off mightily in their last five games. Texas averaged 201.8 rushing yards per game over that stretch while scoring at least 30 points in every contest, with each resulting in a victory.
The strong plays of sophomore running back Johnathan Gray and junior running back Malcolm Brown allowed the Longhorns to seamlessly transition to a ground-and-pound identity when Ash went down. Gray leads Texas with 724 rushing yards on 151 carries this season, while Brown has racked up 290 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in his past three games.
“That’s what this team wants to be,” Malcolm Brown said. “We want to run the ball. The whole team knows that and that’s something we’ve taken pride in, and that’s something we want to go and do all week. Everybody is watching our film and knows that we want to do that. It’s not a secret to anybody.”
The Longhorns have remained especially focused on running the ball in their last three games, recording 156 carries against just 73 pass attempts during this stretch. The effectiveness of the run game has allowed McCoy to connect with his receivers on a number of big plays through the air against single coverage, and he believes it is up to the rest of the offense to help maintain the balance in the running game.
“It’s our job to find a way to get each of them the ball,” McCoy said. “For me that becomes preparation, that becomes getting in the right run game checks throughout the whole game, seeing the defense. Those backs, once they get to the second level, they make guys miss. They make plays.”
The Longhorns hope the running backs continue to make plays against their four remaining Big 12 opponents. They may not have Ash to run the ball from the quarterback position, but behind the effectiveness of the running backs coupled with McCoy’s consistent production, the Longhorns believe they have found their offense’s identity.