2012 Longhorn football preview
A Longhorn offense that's not offensive: Running back to the future
“We need to score points in this league because it's a points league. I think we averaged 28 last year, and we were scoring 50 at times there during the national championship season. Even during the second one in 2009 we were in the upper 40s I think. We need to get back to scoring 40 and 50 points a game to win the games that we need” said Longhorn Head Coach Mack Brown
The Big 12 is a “points league,” where offense rules the field. Last season you could describe the Texas Longhorn football team a lot of ways, but a “points team” would not be one of them.
The Texas offense sputtered for a lot of reasons — they were young, they were learning a new offensive system under a new offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, and to say they had issues at the quarterback position would be an understatement.
Much has been written about the Texas quarterback position. That is not where we’ll start this discussion of the Texas offense. No, this season, the Longhorn quarterback is not the most important player on the offense. This year the quarterback need only hand the ball off to the horses in the backfield and occasionally toss the ball to a receiver to keep the defense honest.
Today, nearly exactly one year later, Gilbert prepares to lead the SMU Mustangs out onto the field against Baylor Saturday. Much has been written about Gilbert and his fall from grace, but this is about 2012, not 2011. Still, it is Gilbert that still haunts the Longhorns offense.
The Running Backs
Texas enjoys the finest stable of running backs in the country and one of them has yet to play a down.
Johnathan Gray is this year’s Malcolm Brown, and Malcolm Brown is just a sophomore. Gray is the freshmen who comes in from Aledo High School where he won National High School Player of the Year honors. He ran for over 3,800 yards for Aledo — last season. Yes, one season.
“You've got to run it good before you can be balanced,” explained Brown. “You can't just pass it good and say you're going to run it, you have got to put an emphasis on running it. And we've spent two really hard years to try to get back to being a very physical football team on both sides of the ball.”
Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, the veteran sophomores will carry most of the weight. Last season, it was Brown and Bergeron, along with senior Fozzy Whitaker who took Texas anemic running game and turned into something to be hoped for.
Today, Texas' running game may be the envy of the nation. Of course, that statement will only play out with the help of…
The Offensive Line
The O-line became such a problem last season that Mack Brown did something he has never done before: He recruited and signed a junior college transfer player. Donald Hawkins left Northwest Mississippi Community College and joined the Texas Longhorns earlier this year, and will suit up and start at left guard Saturday. As a junior, Hawkins will anchor the line with two other juniors, because there isn’t a senior in the starting group.
Mason Walters, another junior will cover the right side of the line as a guard. Walters has yet to live up to his potential, but with a year in the weight room and more experience, his upside remains huge.
Dominic Espinosa will play center with Trey Hopkins at left guard and Josh Cochran at right tackle. The key is depth and this line is still untested. As the offensive line goes, so will go the running game.
“I think we are about to be good again. I don't know when it is, but it's coming.” - Mack Brown
A year ago I wrote, “Garrett Gilbert came to Texas with the tools and the will to win. If he is not the quarterback for Texas, then it's the coaching staff that broke him, and it's the coaching staff that needs to fix him.”
Today, nearly exactly one year later, Gilbert prepares to lead the SMU Mustangs out onto the field against Baylor Sunday. Much has been written about Gilbert and his fall from grace, but this is about 2012, not 2011. Still, it is Gilbert that haunts the Longhorns offense.
Gilbert’s injury and subsequent departure from the team in week four, combined with Conner Wood’s transfer to Colorado left Texas with two quarterbacks where they started with four.
Case McCoy and David Ash learned on the job and they learned from their mistakes — there were a lot of mistakes.
“I think both of them are more accurate, both of them are more confident, both of them are leading the huddle better,” said Brown. “There's not a lot of separation in the two, and that's why we want to play both of them. They both have a command of the offense. They know Bryan [Harsin] better. They know who we are better. They know what we're trying to get accomplished.”
They need to be better, but they don’t need to be great. If the offensive line can deliver on their promise, that great stable of running backs will win football games without a quarterback throwing for 300 yards.
If there is any Longhorn player as important as the running backs to this team it is Jaxon Shipley. Until injury took him out of last season, Shipley showed signs of being the second coming of his brother Jordan and it will be Jaxon, a rising superstar, who carries the load for the aerial attack. He’s fast, runs the tight routes his brother was so well known for and he catches the football when it comes anywhere near him.
In fact, the receiving corps shows huge upside. Senior speedster and Olympian Marquis Goodwin walks in knowing the offense this season, and Mike Davis, who so badly underperformed last year, says he has his “head on straight.”
The receivers know their place on this team: Stretch the opposing defenses, provide cover for the running game, and make an average quarterback look good by catching the ball when it comes their way.
“I want an offense that's aggressive and looks like they are coming out to score every time they walk on the field, instead of one that's kind of feeling their way,” said Brown. “I think we are about to be good again. I don't know when it is, but it's coming.”
About a million Longhorn fans hope it’s coming sooner rather than later.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the defense.