Running game key to Longhorns success
AUSTIN, Texas-Few will forget the running display put on by West Virginia’s Andrew Buie and the Longhorns’ Joe Bergeron in last year’s 48-45 shootout at Darryl K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium won by the Mountaineers.
But, what a difference a year makes.
Buie is using this year as a redshirt with the arrival of former-University of Houston running back Charles Sims, junior college transfer Dreamius Smith and true freshman Wendall Smallwood. Bergeron, who tallied three touchowns in that game, has seen his touches limited by the play of Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown as well as having to deal with a bout of fumblitis.
“He (Bergeron) has given phenomenal effort and he has been making plays on special teams and I have moved him to stuff on the punt team as well,” co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. “He gives great effort but the number one thing we always talk about, and I think you know the answer to your own question, is turnovers win and lose games.
“There are certain positions where you have depth and certain postions where you don’t and right now we have depth at running back and we want to give it to guys that can take care of the ball. Last week was a step in the positive direction. TCU was a step in a positive direction in terms of him holding onto the ball and finishing the game.”
And, the Longhorns certainly have depth at the position as Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12) prepares for its first-ever visit to Milan Puskar Stadium to take on a WVU (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) squad that is coming off of its first road win of the year.
“They (West Virginia) have got a great amount of talent and they play hard,” Applewhite continued. “That is a tough combination. They have some guys in the back end-I am extremely impressed with their safeties. Those are the two most physical safeties I have seen in a long time.
“Those guys do a great job coming downhill, taking on ball carriers, and knocking balls loose. They have done a great job at creating turnovers and taking the ball away from the offense. Defensive line wise, they got some great guys up front in terms of size, strength, and speed. Will Clark is a grea guy off the edge, (Shaq) Rowell is a tough guy when he plays in the nose or in the shade. They are very talented and they can run.”
Challenges Texas has been able to overcome following back-to-back losses to BYU (40-21) and Ole Miss (44-23) thanks to the emergence of Gray and Brown.
“It is just the way that we have to be built to win games right now. That’s what we are going to have to do and a lot of it has to do with quarterback depth. When you don’t have a lot of depth or a lot of experience in that position, the last thing you want to do is find out how inexperienced you are.
“You want to be able to take the ball and in some cases it is frustrating for guys like Mike (Davis) or Kendall (Sanders) or whoever it may be at wideout because they want to catch footballs. But, they have been selfless, they have gone down and blocked and when they have had their opportunities, they have cashed in on them and that has helped us with our defensive side. It is team ball and understanding what fits and what just gives our team overall the best chance to win.”
And, the Longhorns’ running game has been up to the task thanks to the play of Gray and Brown as well as the Texas offensive front. Gray leads the team with 754 yards and five touchdowns on 151 carries while Brown has chipped in 323 yards and seven scores on 83 attempts. Bergeron has added 175 yards and two touchdowns on 31 rushes.
“We have been fortunate now to not have injuries so it has been good to see those guys grow, but if we do have an injury we have every bit of confidence that Joe (Bergeron) can keep that thing going. We feel like we have good depth in that position and they all know what to do and they can all pass protect and catch the football.”
But, will that be enough agianst a Mountaineer defense which ranks No. 7 in the Big 12, allowing 176.6 yards per game?
“You work through those games (Oklahoma, BYU and Kansas) and it is a little of an odd thing when you are installing things against a four-man front and the first time you see it, it can be unsettlng. They (WVU) do a good job of mixing it with 30 and 40 front. They don’t just sit in one so it has been a blessing in disguise to see so many of those coming into this point of the season.
“It would be a lot more difficult had we not seen those fronts and played those fronts better.”
With so much emphasis being placed on the running game, teams have forgotten that the Longhorns can throw the football. Especially with Case McCoy under center. The senior has provided a steady performance since taking over for an injured David Ash, completing 104-of-171 attempts for 1,188 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions.
His top receivers are Jaxon Shipley, who has 39 catches for 445 yards, Davis (30-386, 5 TD) and Sanders (28-286, 1 TD).
Up front the Longhorns will have junior Dominic Espinsoa at center, seniors Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins at guard and senior Donald Hawkins and sophomore Kennedy Estelle at tackle.
Defensively, look for seniors Chris Whaley and Jackson Jeffcoat, junior Cedric Reed and sophomore Malcolm Brown up front, junior Steve Edmond and sophomores Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos at linebacker and seniors Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom and juniors Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson in the secondary.