Young, Taylor, Charles, Melton share UT backfield
Life without Cedric Benson was supposed to be the kind of aggravating concern that could derail the Longhorns' national championship hopes.
But junior Selvin Young, sophomore Ramonce Taylor and freshmen Jammal Charles and Henry Melton have combined to give the Longhorns a collective running back-by-committee replacement for the workhorse back.
No Lyrca suits are needed for this ball-carrying quartet. Instead, they hearken back to the storied days of Texas football when running the ball was the first and foremost option for the Longhorns.
Texas' backfield version of the "Fantastic Four" combined for 332 of the Longhorns' 418 rushing yards last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. All averaged at least eight yards per carry, with Taylor topping the group with a scintillating 13.0 yards per carry average.
"It's probably a coach's dream to turn around and pick a guy, throw him in and produce," Young said. "I feel like that's what we have."
Yards will be much tougher to come by Saturday night at The Horseshoe against Ohio State, but this group appears ready for the challenge.
Some of the backs' success obviously is predicated on Texas quarterback Vince Young, perhaps the nation's most skilled running and passing quarterback. And it doesn't hurt that a veteran line that has combined for 92 career starts is opening holes for them.
"We think this is the most versatile the offense has been since I've been here," senior guard Justin Blalock said. "It's fun to look at who is available and what they can do."
Selvin Young was projected to be the starter, serving as Benson's backup before missing most of the last two seasons with an ankle injury and dropping out of school this spring because of academic issues. He regained his eligibility and earned the starting position in the opener, producing 67 yards on eight carries before leaving with a twisted left ankle.
His backups took advantage of the playing time, becoming the first quartet of running backs in school history to each produce at least 65 yards in the same game.
Charles stepped up to have the best rushing debut by a first-year back in school history, rushing for 135 yards on 14 carries.
"I wasn't really trying to do too much," Charles said. "I was just trying to hit the holes and show my speed."
The most intriguing and clearly the fan favorite is Melton, a bullish 6-foot-3, 275-pounder whose heavy-legged style brings back memories of former Texas A&M tailback Ja'Mar Toombs. Melton rushed for 65 yards on six carries, scoring on runs of 14 and 22 yards in his first college game, breaking five tackles on the first play and six on the second scoring run.
"Trying to tackle him is like hitting a bulldozer," Texas linebacker Aaron Harris said. "When he came here, people told me how he is, but he's actually pretty slim and trim. If he stays that way, it'll be great for us."
Melton's uncle, former NFL cornerback Ray Crockett, had advised him to play defense in college. But his nephew told UT coaches he wanted to start his college career in the backfield -- apparently with good reason after his debut.
Teammates were amazed by the play of Melton and Charles in their first game.
"The thing that surprised me was that most freshmen have a lot of anxiety issues," senior offensive tackle Jonathan Scott said. "I know I did, running out of the tunnel for the first time in front of 80,000 people.
"But they got out there and seemed like they enjoyed the game as well as the whole atmosphere. They played like returning starters, and when they play at ease, their true talent comes out even more."
Taylor doubles as a wide receiver, producing as both a rushing and receiving threat with 65 yards rushing and 23 yards receiving.
It will be interesting to see how Texas coaches juggle the potentially volatile issue of playing time. Selvin Young has talked about wanting to be a featured back who could command up to 40 carries per game.
But the collective effort and unified approach of the first game might keep egos in check as the season progresses.
"We love each other like family," Charles said. "If somebody scores, we go pat them on the back. It's not really a competition. We're just trying to do our job."
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.