Texas coach Tom Herman is taking a clinical approach to the team’s running game, or lack thereof. Everything is going under the microscope. Unfortunately, games are not played in hermetically sealed rooms.
“Are we using our personnel correctly?,” Herman said after the win over Iowa State on Thursday. “Are we putting our players in the best possible position to do what they can do and do it well?”
The Longhorns averaged 2.7 yards per carry in the 17-7 win over the Cyclones. That was after averaging just 1.9 yards per attempt against USC.
Texas (2-2, 1-0 Big 12) cannot win grueling Big 12 games without a competent rushing attack. At the moment, the Longhorns are averaging 178.3 yards per game, which ranks sixth in the league. Last season, even a 5-7 Texas squad averaged 239.3.
Herman is thinking far beyond this week’s matchup against Kansas State (3-1, 1-0). That’s why this is such an important issue.
“Human nature is to say we’ve got really good receivers and really good quarterbacks, maybe we should throw it 70 percent of the time. There is a bit of merit to that,” Herman said. “But if we want to win and win championships, we’ve got to find a way to run the football.”
Start with the offensive line, a unit that’s down two injured starting tackles and now woefully thin after several transfers. Freshman Derek Kerstetter started at right tackle against Iowa State over sophomore Denzel Okafor, a surprising move that spoke volumes about both players. “He practiced better,” Herman said of Kerstetter.
The line had a disastrous third quarter, picking up four holding penalties in that period alone. Still, the offensive line mashed Iowa State’s defense in the fourth quarter as Texas ran off the final 7 minutes, 35 seconds for the win.
Who should be getting the carries? Four games in, Kyle Porter has a team-leading 46 carries for 3.1 yards per attempt. Chris Warren III has 42 carries and averages 6.1 yards per attempt.
Porter has shown little dynamic play-making ability to warrant so many carries in the first four games. Warren is a player who historically gets better as the game grinds on. He got only four carries against USC for 15 yards but 16 carries against Iowa State for 44 yards.
“I feel like Chris and Kyle are interchangeable backs, believe it or not,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said on Sept. 13. Warren, a junior, is a 1,000-yard rusher; Porter, a sophomore, has 307 career yards.
Keep an eye on freshman Toneil Carter going forward.
“It’s obvious that Toneil is probably our most twitched-up, explosive, top-end speed tailback,” Herman said. “It was never a talent issue with Toneil; it was a trust issue as a true freshman.
“Is he going to go left when he’s supposed to go right?,” the coach added. “Is he going to block the right guy when he’s asked to block people? Is he going to protect the football, b cease quite honestly, he’d been a bit inconsistent with that in practice.”
And there’s the issue of how Texas will run its quarterbacks.
The school announced on Saturday that sophomore Shane Buechele suffered an ankle injury against Iowa State. He was wearing a protective boot but is not expected to miss any practice time this week.
Buechele, with a 6-8 career record as a starter, has suffered rib, hand, concussion, shoulder and ankle injuries. He’s never been a dynamic runner, averaging 1.6 yards in 14 games.
Freshman Sam Ehlinger, 1-1 as a starter, is a far better runner, to hear his teammates tell it. Ehlinger averaged 2.2 yards per carry against San Jose State and USC. He’ll likely try to run through a linebacker than run out of bounds, never mind the wisdom of such a decision.
In four games, UT’s two quarterbacks are averaging 13.5 rushing attempts per game. Take the sacks out of that total, and the number drops to 10.5.
If Beck is content to use the zone read, Ehlinger may be a better fit long term. The politics of changing quarterbacks requires a higher degree of calculus, though.
Texas has capable blockers and a plethora of runners. This is an issue that can be solved. The offense simply cannot rely on the passing attack alone to win games.
“It’s difficult as a play-caller when you’re making one yard or two yards,” Herman said. “You want to just say, ‘Forget it, let’s just throw it every snap.’ That’s not the answer, either.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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