Column: Running game must fuel Longhorn attack

Michael Shapiro

Texas has a litany of offensive question marks prior to opening night against No. 10 Notre Dame on Sept. 4. 

The Longhorns must find a starting quarterback, fill the starting center slot and see significant development in their receiving corps.

But the burnt orange won’t have to worry about its backfield. Texas features two bona fide running backs in junior D’Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren and will look to give additional carries to freshman Kyle Porter.

“We’ve got two big ol’ backs back there with a good offensive line that can open up the gaps and open up holes for people,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball.”

Foreman and Warren will be the linchpins of Texas’ attack. Both are bruising backs, checking in over 235 pounds. And when the fourth quarter comes around, the Longhorns will look to Foreman and Warren to finish the game, one body blow at a time.

Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said the duo will give opposing defenses fits with their size and strength. He has experienced their physicality firsthand and joked that he “hated” tackling Warren. 

“I give him a hard time, but he’s a really good back and that makes us better as a team,” Jefferson said. “Getting used to tackling those guys makes tackling other guys much easier. Playing against them is fun but challenging.”

The Longhorns know the running back spot is the team’s biggest strength — Strong called the unit the team’s best position group. But the reliance on the running game also stems from necessity. 

Texas’ quarterback situation is still murky, with Strong still refusing to name a starter with the season opener looming on Sunday. 

Freshman Shane Buechele has shown plenty of promise in spring and fall camp, impressing coaches with his work ethic and competitiveness. But with the bright lights of a nationally-televised contest to start the season, some have questioned the prudence of throwing Buechele into the spotlight so early. 

On the other side of the quarterback battle is senior Tyrone Swoopes. Swoopes’ junior campaign was a tumultuous one, perhaps best remembered for being benched after a 38-3 shellacking to Notre Dame at the beginning of the year. 

However, Swoopes shined in the 18-wheeler package — a short yardage and goal line package — while rushing for 12 touchdowns. And Longhorn coaches and players have praised Swoopes throughout the spring, noting his improved attitude and accuracy.

“When I talk to [Swoopes] you can see his competitiveness,” Foreman said. “He tries to go out and make all the throws and he’s changed so much with the passes he makes and his accuracy.”

With Buechele and Swoopes posing significant question marks, Texas will look to its running back duo early and often. 

“We’ve been conditioned well enough to where we can get the ball 25-plus carries a game,” Warren said. “The amount of reps that our running backs have gotten in fall camp and practice is going to allow us to rotate in as much as possible.”

No Longhorn running back has ran for over 1,000 yards in a season since Jamaal Charles in 2007, and that trend is expected to continue in 2016. But Texas’ backs are bound to eclipse that number collectively this year, fueling the Longhorn offense. In a season filled with question marks, Texas’ backfield will be a guaranteed strength.