Up-tempo offense, improved passing game won’t matter if Horns running backs can’t stay healthy


Elisabeth Dillon

Junior running back Malcolm Brown is just one member of the Texas backfield that is poised to have a productive season on the ground. Brown has been bothered by injuries in each of the past two seasons. 

Christian Corona

Texas won eight games two years ago, then nine the year after that. No team in the country has more returning starters than the 19 the Longhorns have. 

Everything is perfectly set up for Texas to win 10 games for the first time since Colt McCoy was under center.

The Longhorn offense, complete with a now-seasoned David Ash entering his junior season and five returning starters on the offensive line, is adopting a more up-tempo approach. More snaps means more touches to go around.

But if Texas’ running backs can’t make it through the season healthy, then it won’t matter. Any hopes of winning a Big 12 title and contending for a national championship will go down the drain. 

“I’d love to figure out how to rotate them,” head coach Mack Brown said after the Orange-White Scrimmage last month. “None of them have been healthy except for Johnathan [Gray]. We haven’t had a problem with how to play them. We’ve had a problem keeping them healthy.”

Malcolm Brown missed two games with a turf toe injury as a freshman in 2011 and five more after hurting his ankle last season. Joe Bergeron was never the same after injuring his hamstring with five games left in 2011, and was still not 100 percent while he nursed a shoulder injury last year.

When the Longhorns signed Gray — who, like Brown, came out of high school as the nation’s top running back prospect — some wondered whether there would be enough carries to go around in the three-headed Texas backfield.

But injuries to Brown and Bergeron ensured that the Longhorns never got a chance to deal with that “problem.” But now that they’ve all made it through spring practice healthy, Texas may be forced to find a solution.

“Nobody in the running back room is selfish at all,” Malcolm Brown said. “We’re all happy for each other and want to see everybody do well. Whatever situation it is and whatever guy is best at that situation will be in the game.”

The Longhorns are poised to have a great 2013 season. They were awful in 2010, better in 2011 and good in 2012, but have not played to the Texas standard in four years. If Ash can make the jump from his sophomore to junior year like Vince Young and McCoy did before him, the Longhorns’ passing game can be one of the best in the Big 12.

But Texas desperately needs to be productive running the ball. In the Longhorns’ nine wins last season, they averaged 203.9 rushing yards per game. In their four losses, they ran for just 98.5 yards per game.

Texas can be a good team without a solid running game. But it’ll need a reliable rushing attack to be great.