By the numbers: Texas needs more from running backs

Peter Sblendorio

Entering the season, the veteran running back tandem of Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray appeared to be the clear strength of the Texas offense.

Through two games, though, the rushing attack has failed to come close to that billing. It is still early in the season, of course, but history indicates the Longhorns need much more production out of their backfield if they hope to contend for a conference title.

In their past two Big 12 championship seasons, the Longhorns thrived behind a dynamic rushing attack. In 2005, the Texas ground game led the conference with astounding totals of 274.9 rushing yards per game, 5.9 yards per carry and 55 rushing touchdowns en route to the fourth national championship in school history. In 2009, its most recent Big 12 championship season, Texas once again led the Big 12 with 28 touchdowns on the ground, while finishing fifth in the conference with a respectable 147.6 rushing yards per game.

The Longhorns’ running game this year has been a far cry from those impressive seasons. Through two contests in 2014, Texas ranks ninth in the conference with a meager 122.5 rush yards per game, and no team in the Big 12 has a worse average than the Longhorns’ 3.3 yards per carry. These struggles are a major part of why the Longhorns rank ninth in the Big 12 with 22.5 points per game and 305.5 yards of total offense.

Texas was especially bad Saturday against BYU, when it managed just 82 rushing yards on 35 carries for a paltry average of 2.3 yards per carry. Still, the Longhorns weren’t exactly a model of consistency in running the ball in the opener against North Texas, either.

Gray led Texas with 82 yards on 16 carries against the Mean Green, but more than half of that came on a single 42-yard run. He averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt on his other 15 carries. Brown had a similar performance, as 26 of his 65 rushing yards came on a single run.

If 2013 is any indicator, the Longhorns will need a greater output from their running backs if they hope to contend for a conference title. Texas averaged 225.1 rush yards per game in its eight wins last season but managed just 150 yards per contest on the ground in its five losses.

This season, however, it may be tough for the Longhorns to turn things around. Texas is currently down three starters on an already inexperienced offensive line, with senior center Dominic Espinosa out for the season with a broken ankle and tackles junior Kennedy Estelle and senior Desmond Harrison serving indefinite suspensions. Couple that with teams likely to stuff the box with sophomore backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes under center, and it becomes clear that running lanes could be hard to come by for Gray and Brown.

If Gray and Brown can’t overcome these disadvantages and lead the Longhorns like they have in the past, the numbers suggest it could be a difficult season for the Texas offense.