Why can’t Texas run the football?

In just about every year since Vince Young left it feels like the Texas coaches have come out and said they were placing a renewed focus on running the football. First it was a reason to ease freshman Colt McCoy out of Young's shadow and into the spotlight. Then it was a way to keep McCoy from getting killed after he led the team in rushing in 2008. Now, again, it was supposed to be a way to ease Garrett Gilbert into the starting role.

Hasn't really happened that way. Minus one slight uptick in 2007, the Longhorns have gotten progressively worse from a national perspective over the past six seasons. Given the talent level in Texas and the Longhorns ability to get the biggest pumpkins in the patch year in and year out, that seems a little strange doesn't it?

Why can’t Texas run the football?
Behind Cedric Benson and Vince Young, the Longhorns averaged nearly 300 yards a game on the ground in 2004 to rank 2nd in the nation. They were again 2nd in their national title year. Now, through five games, they sit at 82nd in the country averaging just under 130 ypg.

Surely this can't be a talent issue, right? Depends on how good you think the running back talent in Texas should be.

Since 2004, the state of Texas has had six running backs ranked in the top five according to Rivals. Was that more or less than you thought there would be?

That's the best state tally over that span, one more than both Florida and California produced. How many of those top five Texas rasied running backs did the Longhorns sign? Zero. Adrian Peterson and Jermie Calhoun went to Oklahoma. Michael Goodson, Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael all went to A&M. Somehow Lache Seastrunk made it all the way out to Oregon. But the truly interesting thing is that the Longhorns simply opted to look elsewhere in many of the above cases.

Of the six running backs listed above, Scout lists only Seastrunk as having an offer from the Longhorns. The jury is still out on most of those backs and will always be out on the effectiveness of recruiting rankings, but the Longhorns declining rushing numbers seem to indicate that the alternatives Texas found haven't exactly made people forget about the high-profile talent the team passed over either.

But maybe this isn't necessarily about talent evaluation. Perhaps it's a more systemic problem. Unsportsmanlike Conduct radio host Mike'l Severe posed an interesting question to recruiting guru Jeremy Crabtree a few weeks back on the show. What effect has the proliferation of 7-on-7 leagues in Texas meant for offensive linemen? Crabtree's response was something along the lines of "I never considered that but it's a damn good theory" and I tend to agree.

Texas quarterbacks have almost literally taken over college football in recent years, yet they spend much of the summer chucking the ball around without an offensive line. By all accounts Texas is the cradle of the spread offense and that's great for a lot of things except learning how to block straight ahead running plays. Seems at least as likely an explanation as simply whiffing on recruits. The Longhorns don't miss that often.

Either way, the slow degradation of the Texas running game is finally seeming to have an effect on the Longhorns fortunes. Garrett Gilbert, at least at this point, isn't Colt McCoy or Vince Young. He could use the help and, so far, he hasn't gotten it.

In this particular game, that's going to be worth watching. The Kansas State game provided a nice summation of the Nebraska defensive philosophy so far. People questioned the Blackshirts ability to stop the run but, as Carl Pelini noted earlier in the season, the staff is content to let teams earn their way down the field three to four yards at a time. It's all about limiting explosive plays and forcing the opponent to play mistake free.

So far that plan has worked to perfection. Nebraska has an offense that can score quickly. They have a kicker/punter who can get you out of trouble deep in your own territory. And, most importantly, they have one of the best secondaries in the country. The idea is go ahead and plug away, eventually you'll have to pass. We dare you to.

Neither option looks particularly appealing from a Texas point of view. Do they keep trying to pound the square peg, knowing Nebraska is perfectly content to make them go 10 or 12 plays to score every time? Or do they put it in the hands of Gilbert, on the road, going against the best secondary he'll see this year.

My guess is they'll try for the former and be forced into the latter, just the way the Pelini's drew it up.

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Comments 25 comments so far

“Why can’t Texas run the football?”

Because paying the handful of referees on the field to move the ball is cheaper than paying 11 players to?

But all kidding aside, it is cheaper for Texas to pay the referees than their players.  They at least learned *something* from the endgame of the SWC.  Too bad it wasn’t honesty.

And since I forgot to do so while demonizing Texas (and deservedly so), this was one of the best pieces of the year Brandon.  Kudos to you.

I do think that the question posed by Michael to Crabtree is a very poignant one, as many Nebraska fans south of the Mason-Dixon line have watched this explode not only in Texas, but all over the south.  While the northern states do dabble in 7o7, they still stay true to the ideology of playing a whole team, as they know (as Osborne pointed out) that northern weather just isn’t conducive to allow a team to be one-dimensional and win championships.

Sure, there will be your statistical outliers (read: Texas Tech) that find some modicum of ‘success’, but Tech still hasn’t won a Big XII title, nor have they won a National Championship.

Really good piece, Brandon. That chart is stunning. It’s no wonder Greg Davis’ days are numbered down there.

As an official I should take umbrance at your remark about “paying the referees”. But you are so clearly out of touch with reality, I only feel sympathy for for delusions.

Just for your personal knowledge, in a football crew (usually 5 or 7 people), there is only ONE referee. There are side judges, line judges, an umpire, a back judge, not a bunch of referees.

Your remark about Texas being dishonest is interesting, especially if I read that you believe they were dishonest in the SWC. Texas was highly disliked by the programs that cheated in the SWC. They were as clean as any team in the SWC, and did a great job of holding boosters in check. Just for grins, google “SWC boosters automobiles” and see how often Texas A&M pops up.

Two ideas:
1) Excellent research and thoughts on this, Brandon. 
2) Answer to your question: Texas can’t run the football because they are soft on offense.  Nerf soft.

‘Dennis’, thanks for honoring us with your presence.  Can I call you ‘Walt’?

First, as someone that is in possession of post-secondary education, I take umbrage at your failed attempt at English, as there is no such word as ‘umbrance’. 

Additionally, I’m sorry you aren’t aware that ‘referees’ is one of many commonly-used terms used to describe a group of officials.  Other slang/vernacular that is also commonly used to denote a group of game officials includes, but is not limited to:

zebras
refs
referees
asshats
idiots
Deloss Dodd’s Altar Boys (regional variation)
Dan Beebe’s paid-for whores (regional variation)

As for Texas being dishonest in the SWC, they were one of the four programs (the others being Texas Tech, SMU, and Texas A&M) that were implicated by Texas Tech of having paid their players.  Considering the level of sanctions levied against the program (and, indirectly, the SWC itself) by the NCAA, there is public justification for Texas’ stature as a dishonest program. 

Having referees call three holding penalties in a row to assist Texas in winning against a Bill Callahan-led team is simultaneously blatant and pathetic.  Having referees not throw out a player that commits two chop blocks in a row against the same opposing player without ejection is, at the same time, blatant, pathetic, and dangerous.

Good article.  Finally some interesting insight instead of the typical title hype.  Thank you

@Matt: You may have just replaced Roy Helu, Jr. as my man crush.

It is very difficult for a team to transition from being a passing team to a running team, or vice versa. The skills required of offensive linemen are very different, and there are few who can make a seamless, single-season adjustment. Just look at Notre Dame earlier in the decade, or better yet, Nebraska making the transition to a passing team under HWSNBN and back to a running team under Bo. Changes of this magnitude take time, so I’m not surprised by Texas’ difficulties in the running game this year.
In view of this, I expect Texas to revert this week back to the spread passing attack it employed last year. Yes, I know that they know that means going against the strongest part of NU’s defense, but their running game has gone nowhere all season and I can’t imagine that they have any reason to believe that will suddenly change this week against Big Red. Their backs are against the wall, and I suspect they are ready to make major changes in an effort to save their season. Plus they have the extra week. If I’m Mack, I’m thinking it’s time to run the offense they recruited for and have experience with.
Look for Texas to take it’s chances with Gilbert and throw it around a lot more this week.

The reason texas has no running game is bc when the recruit they lock up players by their jr yr in high school and they are not patient when offering recruits scholarship. Texas believes that if u don’t immediately take their offer than it wasn’t ment to be n texas usual moves on n doesn’t come back. Good example look how james from oregon snuck out of texas n he went to a houston school same as luck from stanford. Texas doesn’t evualte their talent well hence why they have top ten talent every yr but only on vyoung title to show for it…...

Jae—that is a very good point.  I’d be curious to see how the kids they missed out on produced compared to those they took on the past decade or so. 

Considering Oregon, Stanford, and even Nebraska have kids that were interested in attending UT, I wonder if the number of kids they’re missing out on (and their quality) is at fault alongside 7o7 play.

Frankly, I can see Nebraska be one of a handful of schools that would form a conduit for kids from Texas that don’t want to play in the Big XII-II.  Frankly, there’s only one team that looks to do anything next year, and that’s Oklahoma.  A few years of being relegated to the kiddie table because of a lack of competition would help jump start another mass exodus of kids from Texas to other conferences.

NU fans used to be know and respected for their class.  Now they are blaming refs for other teams winning and saying that opponents cheat?  Looks like lots of things have changed up there.  Come one, you guys are better than that.  Leave that stuff for sooner fans.
Texas was handed one sanction during the whole of the SWC.  Look it up.  It involved a recruit from Mississippi that later went to Oklahoma (imagine that) who walked into a boot store with a booster and walked out with a nice pair.  The booster ended up coming back to pay for them rather than cause a stir.  I’m okay with that in light of the scandals at A$M and SMU involving cars, cash, apartments, women, etc.  Read “A Payroll To Meet” if you want an interesting take on the SMU deal that led to the death penalty.
FYI - the recruitment of Adrian Peterson came down to Texas and Oklahoma.  We started recruiting him when he was a junior.  He went to OU because he said he would have a better chance to win a national championship.  He won a single conference title while Texas won two AND the BCS title without him.  Texas recruited Goodson but he committed to the Aggies early.  Seastrunk is on the left coast because all of the schools around here decided he was way too much of a head case, and his mother had her hand out.  Texas went after Chris Whaley instead of Michael, which might end up being a mistake.  Jury is still out on that one.
Why can’t we run effectively?  I wish I could pin it down.  The more important question should be why are we even trying to be a running team?  We went to two national championship games with the zone read offense.  Gilbert, a national high school player of the year, ran the zone read when he won two state championships in high school and he did a nice job with it in the second half against Bama in the title game last year.  The team was basically designed around the zone read.  What made our coaches decide to do away with it?  Down here we have a saying….. if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  They tried to fix something that wasn’t broke, and in the process may have broken something else, not to mention my heart.  By the way, I hope Nebraska wins every game except this one.    Hook ‘Em

Texas may not be able to run, but they do know how to beat the Huskers. This is one of their most favorite games of the season. They have already circled this game as a win as Nebraska has done before the season with the likes of Western Kentucky, SDSU and Idaho. This is their Iowa State game….. People of Nebraska, you only have one play… and yes Texas will defend it… hope ya all do not have to pass… because we do have all that 5 star talent back there waiting to take it to the house. Texas by 10.. only because they are playing at probably the best crowd in college football. Do not forget to stand and clap when we are tipping our helmets to you at the end of this wood shed thriller

Matt - Excellent posts.

Bevos buddy - You obviously haven’t been reading the paper much. We have been running “one play” b/c that’s all we’ve needed to run. There’s a lot more in the play book that awaits.  The horns will have had their hands full preparing to defend the zone read option, and won’t have prepared for all the rest. Not to mention, we haven’t opened up the passing game yet. When we do, it will make the safeties move back and open up the zone read option again. I love our offense! Ask Muschamp for me if this has been a fun couple of weeks as he tries to formulate a defensive plan against us. (Btw, having T-magic kinda makes the wildcat unnecessary, doesn’t it?)

One relatively anonymous Nebraska fan posting on the internet is not representative of the entire fan base. Texas has one of the best football programs in the nation. Nebraska is just climbing back into the ranks of respectability. It’s going to be a hard-fought game. Texas gave OU a pretty decent run. Horns fans have come to expect 10 wins a season. Sounds very similar to our own fan’s expectations. Nebraska will need to play disciplined, focused, fiery football to put this one away.

GO BIG RED!

LOL. I love it! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoooooooooooooooooooooo! Win or lose I Love the HUSKERS!!! LOL
HAVE A GREAT WEEK!
T-Magic and company will have a performance this Saturday and it will be a good show people, don’t be late!
Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Go Big REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED

Texas can’t run the ball because for the past four years they developed an offense that was designed to suit Colt McCoy’s strengths.  Texas never went vertical with McCoy because he lacked the arm to do it.  They didn’t run a whole lot of option because it wasn’t where his best attributes would be likely to consistently show.  As we know he was very accurate short and medium and they used him in that capacity.  Texas hid behind bubbles, slips, and the screen game to be their de facto running game.  It takes time to bring people in to a program and then start to forge it in one general direction.  You have to implement culture and reinforce it.  Texas under McCoy used a spread formation, but they never spread you to isolate and attack the box.  For two years Texas hid from the world that they couldn’t run the ball.  It will probably around the same time before they can do it.  Once Jamaal Charles left, in essence, Texas was hiding for two years that they could not run the ball.  You just can’t say overnight, “We’ll we’re gonna try this now.  From this day forward we will be a downhill team that will kick in your doors.”  That’s gonna take time (how long did it take us?).  Whether time is a luxury that is readibly available in Austin is another question all together. . .

@bevos buddy

UCLA put up rushing 220 yards on the longhorns D…and they lost to Kstate, who we dismantled last week.

As a long term husker fan, I have to give Texas credit for one of two of the best football programs money can buy (Florida also in the top two).  It isn’t a question of buying referees, it is a question of pouring unlimited oil money into a football program and all the bells and whistles (coaches, facilities, recruiting trips,etc) combined with providing a massively supportive and rich media base that can draw hot shot young players to play in front of. 

Ever since Texas bought it’s way into the Big 12, it has been an up hill battle with only hard work, dedication and whole-supported fan patience and support that has allowed Nebraska to stay competitive since Osborn retired.  But in the end, these virtues have brought us back us to national prominance.  Let this game be a great competition.  We have a great chance of winning, but the final score will probably be close and lady luck is fickle.  Fellow huskers, just remember that this is only three years into the Pellini era and the very beginning of Martinez’ evolution as a great player.

That said, I think we will send them back to the Lone Star state with their tails between their legs wondering what ran over them.  Our next meeting will probably be in the BCS championship.

(a few years down the road)

“As a long term husker fan, I have to give Texas credit for one of two of the best football programs money can buy (Florida also in the top two).  It isn’t a question of buying referees, it is a question of pouring unlimited oil money into a football program and all the bells and whistles (coaches, facilities, recruiting trips,etc) combined with providing a massively supportive and rich media base that can draw hot shot young players to play in front of. “

Dan—Texas has bought off the Big XII, including the referees for the conference.  The head of referees for the Big XII is Walt Anderson, a UT grad. 

If you say Walt’s position and alumni status has ANY bearing on how the zebras call games in this “conference”, then I would say you’re a Longwhorn fan.

Wow, sounds like bitter Husker fan is a little nervous about this game.  NU should win, but being one deminsional is not going to make things easy for them, if Texas concentrates on stopping the run and force NU to pass, that will play right into what the Longhorns are looking for.  This should be an “instant classic” of a game.

Dan - Explain how we bought our way into the Big 12.  As I recall that was the melding of two conferences that both would have died had it not happened.  And don’t tell me that the money we bring in via TV and bowls has been bad for your program.  I’m sure the Huskers didn’t send back the checks.

To indicate that Texas gets calls because the head of refs is a Texas Ex is ridiculous.  Would you suggest that this same gentleman would make sure calls went to the Huskers if he were a Nebraska grad?  He would not be in his position were he not very ethical and highly regarded.  But go ahead and think what you want to think.  You can talk all of that smack in the Big 10 next year and you won’t have to see “our” refs any longer.

Regarding our offense….. in Texas most of the top high school programs are running the zone read now.  Many have modified it to make it a pass first offense like we did with Colt the last two years, but the fact is that the linemen are standing up.  It is no easy task to take a stand up lineman and turn him into a “down” lineman that can drive block straight ahead.  But we should have never gone away from the zone read in the first place.  I bet you will see some of it on Saturday.

LOL. We had more F***en fun playing OU on Thanksgiving in the Big 8 years past.

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