Coming off best rushing performance of the year, Texas faces stingy TCU rush defense

Peter Sblendorio

In their upset victory over No. 12 Oklahoma two weeks ago, the Longhorns finally employed the punishing ground attack they believed they were capable of all along.

Sophomore running back Johnathan Gray and junior running back Malcolm Brown each eclipsed the 100-yard plateau on the ground, setting the pace for an offense that ran for 255 yards on 60 carries. This week’s matchup against TCU, though, figures to present a bigger challenge for the Texas running backs.

The Horned Frogs boast the top-ranked run defense in the Big 12, allowing just 115.3 rushing yards through seven games. They already limited both Texas Tech and Kansas to fewer than 50 rushing yards in games this year, and they held pass-happy SMU to a paltry 16 yards on the ground.

Head coach Mack Brown realizes the difficulty in pounding the ball against the stout TCU front seven, and he remains hopeful that his team can rise to the challenge coming off of a dynamic rushing performance against the Sooners.

“This may be the best run defense in our league that we’re playing this weekend,” Brown said. “This will really be great timing for us with this matchup because we talked about who we wanted to be. We were that team [against Oklahoma]. Can you do that again when they know you’re going to run it?”

The Longhorns running backs believe they can. Malcolm Brown said they continue to approach this game the same way as any other, and he expects the Texas coaching staff to put together an offensive scheme that allows them to control the line of scrimmage.

“These coaches always have a great game plan for us each and every week,” Brown said. “I know they’ll have a scheme for us. It’s nothing different really. We just have to practice hard and go in with a mindset that we’re going to win and do what we want to do on offense.”

Despite this, Gray acknowledged TCU’s ability to wreak havoc against opposing run games. The running back knows the Horned Frogs excel in plugging running lanes and making contact early, and he said the Longhorns must be prepared to take on their physical
front seven.

“They are a great defense,” Gray said. “They’re No. 1 in stopping the run. They are doing a great job at spiking gaps and being fundamentally sound. [TCU head coach] Gary Patterson always has those guys going so it is going to be a tough defense to play against. We have to be better at preparation and get prepared for them.”

Texas failed to accomplish much on the ground in a loss against TCU last season, compiling just 86 rushing yards while averaging 2.6 yards per carry. The Horned Frogs returned nine starters on defense from last year, but senior left guard Trey Hopkins insists the Longhorns refuse to be overmatched in the running game this time.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us,” Hopkins said. “They were a great run defense last year, and we only rushed for 86 yards. That’s definitely something that we’re not going to allow to happen this year. We’re definitely going to have to be able to move the ball on
the ground.”

TCU allowed just one of its past five opponents to compile over 100 yards on the ground, a total surpassed by both Gray and Brown two weeks ago. The Longhorns remain confident they can continue their ground success again this week, but they know it won’t come easily against the Horned Frogs.