This is a great chance for momentum, and Longhorns like David Ash, Mike Davis and Johnathan Gray will garner the most attention if the wins continue to come.
But Texas' quietest unit will determine just how far this offense can go.
After three straight Big 12 wins, the schedule lines up for the Longhorns to take real step toward what once thought to be a virtual uncertainty: a nine- or 10-win season.
Since that forgetful day weekend in Dallas and that near-disaster in Lawrence, the Longhorns have followed the blueprint that Mack Brown had in mind for this offense: run it effectively to set up the passing game.
Give Ash credit for being better than originally projected, and for understanding that college football is about playmakers. But it cannot be stressed enough that Texas will only be as good as the guys up front. Tackles Donald Hawkins and Josh Cochran, with an able assist from swingman Luke Poehlmann, are a big reason Texas quarterbacks have been sacked only seven times in 260 pass attempts. The interior (guard Mason Walters, center Dominic Espinosa, and guard Trey Hopkins) is solid, though the 298-pound Espinosa is sometimes overpowered by the huge tackles in this conference.
While we've seen glimpses of how good the unit can be down the line, the final possession of the Texas Tech game gave a real indication of Brown's dream come true, if only for one possession.
After Carrington Byndom blocked a field-goal attempt, Texas retrieved the ball with 5:15 left in the game. Leading by nine, the Horns didn't need points; they needed to take time off the clock.
So they ran it. Then ran it again. And again. In all, the Horns ran it seven straight times at a much-improved Tech defense to salt away the clock before Ash took two celebratory kneel-downs.
“We love to win games with a four-minute offense at the end of the game where you just kill the clock and don't have to throw the ball,” Brown said. “That was evident Saturday.”
Brown was stoked to close a game with power football leading the way, but he's smart enough to not assume the Horns will easily march through their remaining three opponents with little to no resistance.
All things considered, here are three reasons why Texas will rush for 200-plus yards Saturday and win its fourth straight game:
1. The offensive line will keep Ash clean and open enough holes to keep the Cyclones' front seven honest.
2. The coaches finally realized — what took them so long?- that Johnathan Gray is one of the best long-distance threats in the Big 12. The speedster should get many more carries than power back Joe Bergeron and tailback Malcolm Brown, who should be back this week.
3. The Cyclones are not the same defense without two-time all-Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott, who just underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.
While Texas is scoring 40.3 points per game — a 12-point leap from last season's average — the rushing game is only slightly better, up to from 4.5 yards per attempt in 2011 to 4.8 this season. We're still not getting those consistent, gaping holes up the middle — and that's why you still see the power sweeps with Marquise Goodwin, Daje Johnson, and D.J. Monroe — so there is room to get better.
An increase in Gray's workload will improve those numbers for sure. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry on a 20-carry day in Lubbock and did not show any signs of wear and tear.
“I really think the biggest thing we can be doing is play more consistently,” Walters said. “That's what we have to do and we're working in that direction.”
Looking ahead, Saturday is a good matchup for Texas while the Nov. 22 game against TCU will prove tougher since the Frogs rank eighth nationally in rushing defense and 25th in total defense.
The skill guys will always get the headlines, but ultimate success starts up front.
MCT Information Services