Sophomore may get the call against OU
AUSTIN, Texas -- It's obvious what is dancing through the mind of Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis as he prepares for Oklahoma's tenacious defense.
"I'm not happy with our lack of production in the run game," Davis said as he fielded questions Monday from a larger-than-normal group of media determined to find out why the Longhorns are struggling on the ground. "I won't sleep until it gets better."
Texas had 46 yards rushing on 26 carries against Colorado on Saturday. In the process, two running backs were injured. Redshirt freshman Tre' Newton suffered a mild concussion in the first quarter and did not return. Vondrell McGee injured his left shoulder in the second half. Texas coach Mack Brown listed both as day-to-day, but said they would be limited in practice Tuesday. Neither player appears on the team's depth chart right now, as the Red River Rivalry in the Cotton Bowl looms.
If both players are out, sophomore Fozzy Whittaker could get a chance to start. He had a 12-yard touchdown run Saturday, midway through the fourth quarter. It was his only carry of the game. Sophomore Cody Johnson, who had nine carries for 20 yards against Colorado, could also get in the mix. Freshman D.J. Monroe, who was not part of the running back rotation on Saturday, is also on the chart.
No matter who's starting, Davis knows the entire offense, including his offensive line's run blocking, must get better if Texas is to grind out yards on the ground against the Sooners.
The Longhorns stayed committed to the run and focused on it all week leading up to the Colorado game but couldn't get any rhythm. It was a Colorado team that allowed 305 rushing yards to Toledo earlier in the season. The Longhorns are seventh in the Big 12 in rushing offense.
Davis pointed to several reasons as to why his offense didn't get the job done on the ground against Colorado. First, he credited the Buffaloes with using different schemes and committing to stop the run. But the Longhorns hurt themselves, too.
"We didn't always block them, we didn't always hit the right hole and I didn't always have us in the right play," Davis said.
So Davis goes back to work this week with what could be a constantly changing depth chart. It's ironic that Whittaker may get a chance to start because of injuries in the backfield. Whittaker has had trouble staying on the field, dealing with nagging injuries to his knee and hamstring. Davis said Whittaker has "elevated himself" to near starting status during his short career at Texas only to slip back down the depth chart because of injuries.
"He's really fast, he's really smart," Brown said. "He can do the every-down back stuff. He can do the third-down passing stuff and be the regular back. He had the 12-yard TD run on Saturday when nothing was there. He gave us the spark we needed. He'll be fresh. So if he plays, I'm sure he'll be pumped about it. When he's played, he's been really good. He's just been banged up."
Brown added that he thought Johnson did a nice job and that he should have had more carries. He may get his chance on Saturday.
One aspect of the run game that has changed from last season is quarterback Colt McCoy's part in it. Through the first five games last season, McCoy had 317 rushing yards (and 7.04 yards per carry). Through the first five games his season, he has just 58 yards (1.7 yards per carry).
Davis said that is by design. The Longhorns aren't running as many zone-read plays this season, in which McCoy lets the defense dictate if he keeps the ball or gives it to the running back, in an effort to protect the quarterback.
Maybe that's one wrinkle Texas can add for the Sooners.
Brown didn't single out any one aspect of the running game that troubled him the most but did say that he believes a bad night on the ground is because "the other team outfought us on the line of scrimmage."
Davis said he isn't worried about the linemen's confidence, adding that they are doing an excellent job in pass blocking. His concern is getting them to be more consistent. That will be a point of emphasis in practice this week.
Davis knows that the Sooners' defense will be ready.
"There are plenty of issues that need to be corrected," Davis said. "We have to be better, and everyone knows that. We'll get to work on it."
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at Richard.Durrett@espn3.com.