Texas’ bevy of backs add to rush attack

Austin Laymance

There are plenty of carries to go around.

The Longhorns average roughly 50 rushing attempts per game, and four tailbacks have at least 24 carries this season.

Yes, Texas has reverted to its traditional, run-first style. The team has weapons like leading rusher Malcolm Brown and top scorer Fozzy Whittaker, but the biggest advantage is diversity. Each back has his own running style, and that’s proven key to Texas’ resurgence.

The workhorse? Brown. The home run threat? Whittaker. The speedster? D.J. Monroe. The power back? Joe Bergeron.

“Each guy plays of off each other,” Whittaker said. “It’s kind of hard to just stop one guy. Whenever you have multiple people coming in, rolling in, different looks, different plays, it’s hard for the defense to get a key on who’s in there and how to attack that ball carrier.”

And don’t sleep on the Longhorns’ other rushers, receivers Marquise Goodwin and Jaxon Shipley. Those two, along with Monroe, have added a new dimension to the running attack–the speed sweep.

Still, running between the tackles has been the Longhorns’ recipe for success.

“If we can run the ball inside we’re going to be in good shape,” said Bryan Harsin, the Texas play-caller. “Add on some of the perimeter runs with D.J. and Marquise, to help when everyone is loaded in the box, all that does is balance out what we’re trying to do inside.”

That balanced ground attack has helped Texas climb atop the national rankings in time of possession (35:33 per game). They held the ball for over 44 minutes last week against Kansas, and eight different players had at least one rush.

The Longhorns have spread the ball around this season–more than in previous years–a premium in Harsin’s new offensive scheme.

“It helps a lot,” said sophomore right guard Mason Walters. “We’ve got offensive lineman that are blocking the same plays and we’re able to put different backs in there that put their own little spin on each one. It gives the defense something else to worry about.”

Seven games into the season and Harsin still finds new ways to spread the wealth.

With each week, a new threat emerges. Last Saturday, it was Bergeron, who rushed for a career-high 136 yards–all in the second half–prompting the coaching staff to consider getting him more work late in games.

But the Longhorns’ bread-and-butter is still Brown and Whittaker.

“You want those guys to get into a flow and you’d like to have that guy that comes in, like Joe did [against KU],” Harsin said. “Now, when we’ve got it rolling a little bit and those backs are getting a little tired, bring the fresh legs in and let him roll.”

With so many players shuffling in and out, defenses rarely have time to match up. One moment Brown is pounding it up the middle, and the next, Monroe is sprinting to the outside. Add in some play-action, and opponents have their hands full.

“It’s just a good variety,” said Harsin, who came to UT from Boise State. “You’re faking to one guy and handing the ball to the other. You’re trying to get a step on the perimeter. Monroe and Marquise can get around the corner in a hurry, so if you just freeze [the defense] inside enough, we have an opportunity. And when [opponents] want to start playing that, they get out of position for the inside run game.”