The Texas-Oklahoma stage is where superstars shine.
Ricky Williams blasted his way for 223 yards as a junior in 1997. The next year, he won the Heisman Trophy. Adrian Peterson had a dazzling freshman debut in 2004, rushing for 225 yards. Eight years later, he was the NFL’s MVP.
Just last season, Samaje Perine rushed for 214 yards and D’Onta Foreman had 159. Both have long NFL careers ahead of them.
Now let’s examine Texas coach Tom Herman’s predicament heading into the Red River rivalry. Who is the Longhorns’ best running back? Who gives them the best chance for success against the 12th-ranked Sooners?
Is there really a clear-cut answer?
Kyle Porter leads the team with 53 carries but averages 2.9 yards per attempt. Chris Warren III has a team-high 5.5 yards per attempt, but he doesn’t play consistently. Toneil Carter has just 16 carries but is only just getting into the rotation. Herman said the coaching staff has been “pulling our hair out” trying to find ways to get freshman Danny Young into the game, too.
Nobody gets any extended playing time on any one drive, thus it’s difficult for anyone to establish momentum. “Nobody has separated themselves, so the only way to find out is to let the guys play,” Herman said.
Warren’s 166 yards against San Jose State is the only 100-yard performance posted by any UT running back this season. The Spartans (1-6) have played seven games and now have the third-worst rushing defense among all FBS schools.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck went a step further than Herman on Wednesday and said, “I really do think it’s a running back-by committee.”
“I think all of them can do everything,” Beck said. “There’s nobody that can’t catch a pass, but some of them catch it better than others. All of them can block. Some of them block better than others. All of them can run inside zone, and some of them run it better than others.”
Beck said he has full confidence in running backs coach Stan Drayton to decide who should play and when. “He can look in their eyes and see if this guy is ready or, meh, maybe he’s not,” Beck said. “Maybe he needs a play (off). So, whoever he puts in there, I trust 100 percent.”
Warren scored the game-winning touchdown from 2 yards out in double overtime against Kansas State. Still, it was only his seventh carry of the entire night. He finished with just 14 yards.
Asked if he was frustrated with the constant rotation, Warren said, “It can be difficult, but you have to find your yards regardless of how many carries you get.”
“I don’t think blocking and hustle plays equal to getting carries,” he added. “But I do think they equate to getting more playing time. If they know you’re going to get 100 yards a game, they’re going to give you the ball more to help the team win.”
Take out the big day UT had against San Jose State, and the rushing numbers become more clear. The Longhorns are averaging 118.3 yards per game against Power Five opponents. Those numbers are inflated by the quarterbacks, too. Sam Ehlinger rushed for 107 yards against K-State, for example.
Texas is averaging 3.3 yards per attempt inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Horns have collected points 10 times on 17 trips inside the 20-yard line against Power Five opponents — a 58.8 percent conversion rate that ranks 108th nationally.
“We probably need to do a better job — I need to have a better job — of having an all-purpose plan in place,” Beck said.
Part of that is Herman’s fourth-down binder. Given the choice, he’s likely to go for it. “I hate 20-yard field goals, man,” Herman said. “They don’t make a whole lot of sense to me in terms of cost benefit.”
The Longhorns reached the Wildcats’ 1- and 8-yard lines on two separate drives on Saturday and collected no points. That’s where a power running game could have helped.
But first, Texas needs to settle on who its best running back is.
“We’ve still got to run the ball better when we hand it to our tailbacks,” Herman said.
The Cotton Bowl seems like a good place to pick one and ride him for a while.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
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