Texas Longhorns back to old selves with young lineup
The No. 17 Texas Longhorns have enjoyed a youth revival of sorts. And for a team trying to change its culture, there’s nothing wrong with that. The team started 18 true freshmen in its opener against Rice, tops in the country.
Several first-year players are already contributing significant minutes for the Longhorns, which bodes well for the future: Malcolm Brown leads the team in rushing, Jaxon Shipley leads the Longhorns in receiving, David Ash is a co-starter at quarterback and Quandre Diggs sealed Texas’ win against Brigham Young with a fourth-quarter interception.
With the exception of a few seniors — Keenan Robinson, Kheeston Randall, Emmanuel Acho and Blake Gideon — it appears that most of Texas’ talent belongs to the youngest of players. The 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes were ranked third in the nation, and that’s showing up in the depth chart: 12 of the Longhorns’ 22 starters are either freshmen or sophomores.
The long-term future is indeed bright, but the team looks strong enough to play itself into a battle for the conference championship this season — which is something few thought possible.
The new coordinators and coaches have meshed well, and the passing game seems to have benefited by the subtraction of Garrett Gilbert, who was demoted halfway through Texas’ win over BYU and underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last week.
But if there’s one thing you can put your finger on when trying to explain why the Longhorns just might be back to their old selves, it’s the improvement of the running game. Texas has struggled on the ground since Jamaal Charles left school after the 2007 season, and a variety of runners — Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson, Tre’ Newton and Fozzy Whittaker — have tried their hand at bringing some glory back to the rushing attack. None have had the immediate success that Malcolm Brown has enjoyed.
In three games, the Cibolo Steele product already has rushed for 264 yards and a touchdown, with an average of five yards a carry. The Longhorns are trying to forge a new identity. Centering it around Brown wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Trey Scott: The Kansas game will be a win. Everything else is a chalk up. The Longhorns are favored to beat Iowa State this coming Saturday, but it’s not going to be easy. The Cyclones came to Austin and handed Texas what Mack Brown called the “low point” of the 2010 season, a 28-21 loss. Now, with the addition of quarterback Steele Jantz, ISU might be better than it was last year and the game is on the road. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will, of course, be very challenging.
I’d say 2-2 in the month of October — wins over Kansas and Iowa State and losses to the Sooners and Cowboys. That would give Texas an overall record of 5-2, one away from an automatic bowl berth.
Q: Jeff Fuller entered the season as a Biletnikoff candidate but still hasn’t surpassed 80 yards in a game this season. Is that a product of injuries, emergence of other WRs, too high of expectations or something in between?
David Harris: His early-season production, or lack thereof, has more to do with the competition he faces. In the wins over SMU and Idaho, the Aggies rarely opened up the playbook, instead pounding the rock and throwing short and intermediate routes. Fuller, an outside receiver, caught his fair share of dig routes, but he never got the chance to go down the field. His health has something to do with it, as that hamstring injury seems to still be nagging him a touch. But he’s close to 100 percent.
OSU rarely left Fuller in 1-on-1 situations, rolling the coverage for the majority of the game. That’s why the majority of the Aggies’ passing yardage came in the middle of the field.
All of these factors have played a role. Fuller will have a breakout game eventually. He’s a top-notch receiver.
Q: Texas Tech appears to be running the ball more this year than in years past. Do you expect this trend to continue?
Mike Graham: Texas Tech’s running game is as good as it has been in the past decade.
Running back Eric Stephens changed himself into an explosive runner this past off-season, and it’s paying dividends early this season.
Behind Stephens are three athletic true freshmen who have foregone a redshirt year in Ronnie Daniels, DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams. The coaching staff seems excited about what each of the freshmen bring to the arsenal.
Passing will be Texas Tech’s forte for the foreseeable future, but expect the running game to encroach on the unbelievably high passing numbers of the past.
Red Raider fans should feel good about the new, and improving, rushing attack. Two-dimensional offenses help win championships. Even the best one-dimensional offenses get stifled on occasion.