Texas receiver John Burt, makes a touchdown reception in front of Kansas (25) Marnez Ogletree during the first quarter of Big 12 action held at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Amid season’s rubble came explosive playmakers

Strong can pitch young talent to prospective coordinators

Posted December 1st, 2015

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Story highlights
  • Of Texas' 27 plays of 30 yards or more, 21 came by a player who will return in 2016
  • Ideally, Texas coach Charlie Strong wouldn't mind his offense resembling Oklahoma's power attack.
  • Texas is one of only two FBS teams with three plays of 84 yards or more.

If Charlie Strong ends up creating a job posting for Texas’ next offensive coordinator, it might read that a candidate should be able to handle explosives.

Nearly lost during this second straight season of offensive futility were a handful of young players with a knack for producing explosive plays down the field.

Texas has had 27 plays that have gone 30 or more yards. That ranks 50th nationally. Of those 27, six have been made by a senior and 21 by someone who’ll be back for 2016. The latest plays came in last weeks’ loss to Texas Tech, when Texas produced gains of 91 yards (a Chris Warren III run), 46 yards (a Tyrone Swoopes run) and 32 yards (a Kirk Johnson run).

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So when Strong goes shopping for a new coordinator — which most expect will happen shortly after the season wraps up at Baylor on Saturday — he’ll be armed with big-play artillery to dangle to prospective candidates.

Warren, who in his first extended action rumbled for 276 yards and four touchdowns, has three seasons left on campus, as does Johnson, deep threat John Burt, and quarterback Jerrod Heard. D’Onta Foreman, who has runs of 93, 81 and 65 yards, has two years to go, while Swoopes and his 18-Wheeler package will keep trucking for one more fall.

Texas is one of only two teams in the country, along with Toledo, to have three gains of 84 yards or more. Two of them came against Kansas — Foreman’s 93-yard touchdown run and Burt’s 84-yard score on the game’s first play. The other was Warren’s 91-yard run against Tech.

Strong said he’ll wait until after this season to address the coordinator situation, but it’s widely expected he’ll replace Jay Norvell and bring in a different play-caller, which would be Texas’ third one in as many years. Additionally, former play-caller and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and offensive assistants Joe Wickline (offensive line) and Tommie Robinson (running backs) are in the final year of two-year contracts.

On Monday, a source close to TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie told the American-Statesman that Cumbie is interested in coming to Texas. On Tuesday, the chances of that happening may have increased when TCU’s other co-coordinator, Doug Meachem, withdrew from North Texas’ head coaching search.

Cumbie defers to Meachem as TCU’s play-caller, so the theory is that Cumbie would be willing to leave Fort Worth for the chance to be the singular voice elsewhere.

Strong’s young playmakers will certainly be part of the pitch he gives to candidates who may have reservations about coming to Texas, where Strong may be coaching a make-or-break season in 2016.

Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams have offenses ranked in the top 20 nationally in gains of 30 yards or more. Not coincidentally, they are five of the league’s better teams — Baylor (ranked 1st), Texas Tech (3rd), TCU (9th), Oklahoma State (14th) and Oklahoma (19th).

If there’s one Big 12 offense Texas would most like to replicate, it’s not TCU’s, but Oklahoma’s.

On Monday, Strong showed admiration for OU’s power running attack, and compared the talents of Foreman and Warren to the Sooners’ punishing duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who combined for 267 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-23 rout of Oklahoma State. That win gave OU the Big 12 title and all but secured a spot for the Sooners in the College Football Playoff.

Like Cumbie, Lincoln Riley, OU’s first-year play-caller, is a former Texas Tech quarterback whose system in rooted in Mike Leach’s Air Raid.

“You win games when you run the football, Strong said. “Two big backs at OU is similar to what we have right now.”

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