When Texas introduced new running back coach Anthony Johnson, he talked about the history of Texas running backs. He pointed out that the two Heisman Trophy winners were running backs.
He’s right, of course. And this year Texas may have the best running back corps in a while. Chris Warren III, Kirk Johnson and D’Onta Foreman are in spring camp and Kyle Porter will join them this summer.
That’s a good group. But what are the best running back combos in Texas football history? Glad you asked. Using our Kirk Bohls method (looking only from 1972 to now), here are five running back pairings or groups to remember.
Earl Campbell, Roosevelt Leaks and Gralyn Wyatt, 1974 and Earl Campbell and Ham Jones, 1977
Pair Earl Campbell with any running back he played with, and it’s probably a winning combination.
Campbell and Leaks in 1974 led Texas to an 8-4 record. Freshman Earl Campbell had 928 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Leaks had 409 yards and four touchdowns while Wyatt had 590 and eight rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Marty Akins also had 659 yards and 10 touchdowns (the team lead).
Wyatt had 451 yards and eight touchdowns in 1975, and Akins 777 yards while Campbell went for 1,118 yards and 13 scores.
But his best year was 1977. Campbell rushed for a nation-leading 1,744 yards and 18 touchdowns en route to the Heisman Trophy. His running mate that year was Ham Jones, who scored six touchdowns and went for 489 yards.
Texas went 11-1 that year, losing in the Cotton Bowl to Notre Dame 38-10.
Eric Metcalf and Darron Norris, 1987
Metcalf and Norris were teammates for four seasons at Texas, but their junior years were the best seasons they had. Metcalf ran for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Norris gained 635 and three scores. Both averaged more than five yards per carry.
Texas went 7-5 in 1987, winning the Bluebonnet Bowl 32-27 over Pittsburgh.
Ricky Williams and Shon Mitchell, 1995; Williams, Mitchell and Priest Holmes, 1996
Since 1972, the 1995 year is likely the best running back tandem (not collection, see 2005). Williams, we all know him, rushed for 990 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman. Mitchell led the team in rushing with 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns. The only time Texas has been closer to having two running backs rush for more than 1,000 yards was in 2013, when Malcolm Brown rushed for 904 and Johnathan Gray 780.
Williams and Mitchell combined for 2,356 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns. Both averaged more than six yards per carry.
Texas went 10-2-1 in 1995, the final year of the Southwest Conference and lost to Virginia Tech 28-10 in the Sugar Bowl.
The next year, 1996, Williams rushed for 1,272 yards and Mitchell 626. Both averaged more than five yards per carry (Williams toted 6.2 yards per carry) and Williams scored 12 touchdowns and Mitchell four. But they were joined by Priest Holmes – he missed 1995 with a knee injury – who scored 13 touchdowns on just 59 carries in 1996 with 324 yards.
Williams, Holmes and Mitchell combined for 32 touchdowns from scrimmage for Texas, which somehow went 8-5 that year.
Cedric Benson, Ramonce Taylor, Selvin Young and Will Matthews (and Vince Young), 2004
Texas went 11-1 and won the Rose Bowl in 2004, beating Michigan 38-37 in 2004. A big reason was because the Longhorns ran over people. Benson rushed for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Taylor rushed for 284 yards on 28 carries for a 10 yard per-carry average. Matthews only had 161 yards rushing and Selvin Young only 102.
Vince Young rushed for 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns as well. Yes, he wasn’t a running back. But his rushing numbers and Benson’s add up to 2,913 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Jamaal Charles, Ramonce Taylor, Henry Melton and Selvin Young, 2005
The very next year, Texas’ running game was never better and was still killing teams on the ground. Charles and Melton were both freshmen and Charles gained 878 yards, while Melton went for 432. Taylor rushed for 513 yards. Selvin Young added 461 yards, while quarterback Vince Young led the team with 1,050 yards.
Charles, Melton, Taylor and Selvin Young combined to run for 31 touchdowns. That’s not counting the 12 scored by Vince Young on the ground. Texas had four players average more than five yard per carry that season.
Texas won the BCS National Championship and went undefeated.
Other years to mention
The big year to note is 1981. Texas went 10-1-1 and beat Alabama 14-12 in the Cotton Bowl. That year A.J. Jones rushed for 834 yards, while John Walker went for 714. They combined for 12 touchdowns. Four more players rushed for more than 150 yards that season.
Like we said earlier, Brown and Gray’s 2013 season was productive, but neither averaged more than five yards per carry and Brown led the team with nine touchdowns.
The 1989 team had Adrian Walker rush for 814 yards, Chris Samuels 410 and Winfred Tubbs 233. Walker’s six touchdowns led the team.
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