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?
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.