With the ongoing quarterback carousel engulfing all the hype around this year’s Longhorns football team, a position arguably just as important could sustain a debate of its own. For the first time in a while, the running back position is loaded with talent for the Longhorns.
Returning lettermen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron look to handle the bulk of the carries, complemented by freshman standout Johnathan Gray. With both Brown and Bergeron listed as co-starters, what will be the deciding factor on which player stays in the game longer? If you look back at the stats from 2011 and define a “quality carry” as a carry of four yards or more, a first down or a touchdown, the go-to running back is fairly inconclusive.
For the entire 2011 football season, Brown was handed the ball 172 times and turned 87 of those handoffs into quality carries, a 51 percent success rate. Bergeron was called upon 72 times, converting 43 carries into successful endeavors, a 60 percent rate. With these statistics, the answer is clear: Bergeron should be the most-used back this season. However, if you dive further into individual game statistics and account for Brown running the ball 100 more times than Bergeron, that might not necessarily be the case.
Against Top 10 teams Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Brown converted 17 successful carries out of 36 attempts for a 47 percent rate, while Bergeron only handled the ball three times, rushed for -3 yards — with a long of 2 — for a zero percent success rate. While that looks good on paper for Brown, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State had the 43rd and 90th ranked rushing defenses in the nation respectively in 2011. The debate carries on.
What about the Holiday Bowl?
Quarterback David Ash proved himself to the Longhorn faithful as a reliable signal caller; however, Brown and Bergeron — each hampered by nagging injuries — didn’t do a lot to carry their individual momentum into 2012. Brown made five out his 13 carries quality, rushing for 35 yards, while Bergeron created one out of three, with a 7-yard burst, and 9 total yards on the evening.
Both backs missed three games apiece last season, which isn’t unusual for freshmen adjusting to the speed of college football. When returning post-injury, Brown proved less reliable, converting 13 of 41 carries, a 32 percent success rate, while Bergeron turned six of 12 into successful attempts. If you’re still in a summer daze, that’s 50 percent.
Most people don’t look at these numbers when deciding which running back they prefer. For most, it boils down to who had more yards and who had more touchdowns. Brown had 742 yards, while Bergeron had 463. Each back had five scores on the year.
Nothing will be solved until the Longhorns hit the field against Wyoming Saturday, and it doesn’t need to be. Having two quality running backs is a blessing for any team in this day and age. Add in one of the best prep-running backs in high school football history in Gray, and you have one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the country.