Gather around the campfire, kids, and I’ll tell you about a time long ago, when the pros looked toward Austin for their running backs.
The Texas Longhorns showed glimpses of getting back to that during Charlie Strong’s first Orange-White spring football game Saturday.
While the white-jerseyed “Texas” team beat the burnt orange-clad “Longhorns” 38-14 at Royal-Memorial Stadium, the real story was the run game.
UT used to be the place where stars like Earl Campbell, Priest Holmes, and Ricky Williams established themselves as college stars, but in recent years the game became more wide open and the Longhorns’ stud backs were an afterthought.
The Longhorns have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2007, but on Saturday, Malcolm Brown and Jalen Overstreet showed glimpses of reviving the backfield legacy.
Brown carried the ball 20 times for 82 yards and a touchdown while catching two passes for 26 yards and another score. Overstreet rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries.
Brown will be a senior next season and is the leader of a talented stable of running backs along with senior Joe Bergeron and junior Johnathan Gray.
The three have all shined in moments, but a combination of injury and Mack Brown abandoning the run game has limited their presence during games.
Enter Strong. Although he did a phenomenal job developing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater into a household name, the Cardinals run game was formidable.
Louisville rushed for 1,909 yards last season and had two backs accumulate at least 700 yards.
The Cardinals ran 894 plays last year, 455 were run plays.
The good old days may not be back just yet, and I doubt Darrell Royal would be happy with the numbers or results, but Strong can get the team to develop a good run game because he’s done so in the past.
And in the modern college game, where teams are putting up video game-like numbers, balance is key. Balancing the plays and keeping the opposition guessing can lead to some key wins this season.
The run game can also take a lot of pressure off former Belton standout David Ash. The quarterback missed most of last year with a concussion, missed some games in 2012 with injuries and fractured his foot during spring football.
Limiting the hits on Ash could be a big deal this fall.
Something to keep in mind is it’s one thing to run on a vanilla defense that you’ve been practicing against for a month, but it’s another to do it against a Big 12 defense.
In order for UT to get it going on the ground, the offensive line has to develop, and that won’t be easy.
Center Dominic Espinosa is one of two returners who started in the Alamo Bowl. Sedrick Flowers is the other, and he didn’t play in the Orange-White Game, but was listed on the spring roster.
Defensively, Cedric Reed and Caleb Bluiett gave UT fans a lot of things to be excited about.
Reed, a senior defensive end from Cleveland, Texas, had a couple of sacks and two more quarterback hurries.
Bluiett, a sophomore defensive end from Beaumont, shared the team lead with eight tackles.
AREA STANDOUTS IN ACTION
Former Copperas Cove star Duke Thomas and ex-Harker Heights standout Naashon Hughes did make things happen for the UT defense.
Thomas had two solo tackles for Texas while Hughes had four solo stops for the Longhorns during the game.
Thomas did allow Montrel Meander’s 30-yard reception that led to the Longhorns’ first touchdown, but there was little the former Bulldawg could do on that play.
The coverage was great; Meander had to jump up, make the catch out of bounds and just was able to get one foot in bounds for the reception.
Though Ash will enter fall practice as the incumbent, UT appears to be putting together more options.
Not only will Denton Guyer star Jerrod Heard be on campus in the fall, but ESPN reported that former USC quarterback Max Wittek took in the spring game. It is Wittek’s third recruiting trip to Austin since he announced he would transfer.
Former Harker Heights standouts Camrhon Hughes and Darius James were listed on the UT spring roster, but did not play in the game.