Texas offensive line helps fuel Foreman’s rise

Michael Shapiro

D’Onta Foreman has garnered nearly all the headlines for the Longhorn offense this year. The junior running back is second in the nation in rushing yards per game and gashed Texas Tech for 341 yards on Saturday  — third most in a single game in Longhorn history. 

But behind Foreman’s standout season has been the Longhorn offensive line. The unit has plowed through defenders throughout the year, creating holes for Foreman to burst through on his way to big gains. 

“My O-line has been wonderful to me,” Foreman said following Texas’ victory over Iowa State on Oct. 15. “I appreciate those guys for blocking like they do, they make a lot of room for me to find a crease and hit it.”

Texas’ line doesn’t care much for finesse. The Longhorns sport a group of maulers up front, eager to take on contact from whoever is in front of them.

Take the Longhorns’ fourth touchdown on Saturday. Senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes lined up at the 4-yard line alongside offensive lineman Patrick Vahe — an extra lineman in the backfield. Swoopes took the snap and cruised to the endzone as Vahe shot forward, colliding with two Tech defenders. The sophomore took on nearly 500 pounds of Red Raider, welcoming the contact rather than shying away from it. 

And Vahe’s aggressiveness isn’t the exception — for the Longhorn offensive line, it has become the norm. 

“They walk into the game wanting to be physical,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “The offensive line is where it all starts at… They’ve been able to win up front and knock people off the ball.”

While the offensive line doesn’t receive the media attention of other Texas star players, it still possesses significant talent. Both Vahe and offensive tackle Connor Williams entered the year as members of the Preseason All-Big 12 team, while center Zach Shackelford has started seven games as a true freshman. And those players mark just the surface of Texas’ depth up front. 

“Even when one of those guys goes down, we have plenty of people who can fill in and play well,” Strong said.

Williams has been the standout lineman for the Longhorns in 2016, living up to the preseason hype surrounding him. Pro Football Focus rated the Coppell product the third best pass blocker in the nation on Oct. 24 and noted Williams had allowed just two quarterback pressures in 225 quarterback dropbacks. When it comes to protecting freshman quarterback Shane Buechele’s blind side, it looks as though the Longhorns have nothing to worry about. 

“He plays with an attitude, he plays with extremely great effort every Saturday, and he’s just gotten better,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “He’s a kid that puts himself in a situation every Saturday in the way that he plays to be highly successful.”

The Longhorn line will have three more contests this year to fuel Foreman’s historic season and gain some recognition of its own. But the group says they aren’t focused on the headlines. For now, they’re focused on keeping Texas’ offense rolling. 

“It’s about each person doing their job,” Williams said. “If we take care of what we’re supposed to, we’ll keep seeing the same results we’ve been getting.”