Column: Longhorns need to rely on running backs for success in 2016

Jacob Martella

It might have been easy to miss on Saturday, but through the intermittent rain and freshman quarterback Shane Buechele’s flashy performance, another part of the Longhorns’ offense emerged as a potential threat for opponents: the run game.

Running backs junior D’Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren combined for 174 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown each in the 30-minute spring game.

And if Texas is going to have a bounce-back year, they’re going to have to rely on them in the fall.

“We need to turn around and hand that ball off,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “Let’s ride those big hulking guys until we can’t ride them anymore.”

Foreman and Warren are two of the most physical backs in the country. They each check in at least six feet and 238 pounds and aren’t afraid to take on contact. Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said he’s never had running backs quite this big in his offense before, though he plans on using their size to his advantage.

And that style might be a big help in Big 12 play, where almost all of the defenses are geared to stop speed rather than size. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said it’s been hard for them to stop the running backs in practice — and they know what’s coming.

“It’s just crazy when you go up against them every day,” Jefferson said. “Those guys run downhill and we meet them in the middle like everyone else will.”

But even more important than their style of running is their consistency of running. Last year, Foreman and Warren averaged 7.2 and 6.6 yards per carry respectively. And those numbers, along with an increase in the number of carries, will go a long way for the Longhorns’ offense.

It puts the offense in a favorable spot on second down. It forces the defense to play up and focus on the run, opening up the potential for the long ball. And, most importantly, it keeps the quarterback, whoever it might be, from thinking he has to do it all, taking a load of pressure off of the position.

Of course, how successful this season is will still depend on how the quarterback performs. The Longhorns had a trio of talented running backs — Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray — in 2012 and 2013, but went 8-4 in both years because Case McCoy and David Ash each had their struggles at the position.

But Texas can give whoever is named the starting quarterback a big help by giving opposing defenses a big helping of Foreman and Warren.