The 439 rushing yards Texas racked up against Kansas seemed impossible to top, but the Longhorns did so in their very next game by running for 441 on Texas Tech.
But Texas hasn’t even rushed for 400 yards in its last three games combined.
Injuries to the Longhorns’ three best tailbacks hurt their chances to establish a strong ground game.
Fozzy Whittaker tore his ACL and MCL against Missouri while Malcolm Brown has been dealing with turf toe and Joe Bergeron has not fully recovered from a hamstring injury. Brown and Bergeron returned against Kansas State two weeks ago but were not 100 percent healthy with Bergeron not playing against Texas A&M.
Texas embraced the identity of running the ball down opponent’s throats, but now they’re looking to revive a running game that’s been nonexistent recently.
“We need to run the ball more consistently,” said head coach Mack Brown. “We’re not running the ball like we used to. We got our identity against Tech and Kansas, then, all of a sudden, we lose all three of our backs for the Missouri game.
In his last two games, Brown has rushed for 72 yards on 28 carries. Nearly a month ago, he ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries before a turf toe injury that he says has nagged him since his high school days resurfaced. He should play again this weekend.
“It was pretty difficult to just watch those two games,” the freshman running back said. “I’m just ready to be back out with my team and show them that our running game, at the beginning of the season, wasn’t a fluke.”
Bergeron, like Brown, has missed two games this season and was not completely healthy when he ran for 40 yards on nine carries against Kansas State. He took over for his fellow first-year tailback when he ran for 191 yards against Texas Tech and tied a Longhorn’s freshman record with three rushing touchdowns. But Bergeron hasn’t been the same since and his head coach knows how much he means to his offense and could miss the regular season finale.
“We need Joe Bergeron back,” Brown said. “With Joe’s hamstring, who knows? It’s one of those things where you watch him in practice and you watch him run in pregame. He just wasn’t ready.”
For the first time all season, the quarterback position is more stable than the one at running back.
McCoy has solidified himself as the starter behind center after rallying the Longhorns to a dramatic win over the Aggies this past Thursday and extending his interception-free streak to 106. But the running game will still be needed to alleviate the burden on Texas’ passing attack, even if it has improved with McCoy at the helm.
“For us to beat Baylor, we’ve got to throw the ball better,” Brown said. “We feel like Case [McCoy] will give us a chance to throw it better but we’ve got to [run the ball].”
The Longhorns couldn’t move the chains on any of the first five drives against the Aggies. If they expect to have a chance at beating Baylor, their offense will need to improve before trading blows with one of the nation’s most prolific passing attacks. The Bears facing one of the country’s top 10 defenses should help Texas’ chances. But the Longhorns will need their offense to click before halftime, unlike last week.
“Going three and out is not really going to help us,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “The field goals need to turn into touchdowns. On third downs, we need to extend our drives. That’s the reality. We’re not going to be able to go three and out and play field position all night.”
Texas may not have a Heisman candidate at quarterback but they have the next best things – a former Heisman candidate’s younger brother and an impressive stable of somewhat healthy tailbacks. The Longhorns might not rack up 400 yards on the ground this week, but they’ll need more than the 86 they got this past Thursday.