Johnathan Gray, Chris Whaley out for rest of 2013 - How do the Texas Longhorns overcome their loss?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

How can the Horns replace these two key players?

Our best hopes for a quick recovery for both of these young men.  Whaley will have a free agent shot at making a NFL roster next year and Gray will hopefully recover from his treacherous Achilles injury (I'd have preferred a broken bone) to lead Texas in rushing again in 2014.

So how does Texas overcome their loss?

Whaley is the most addressable loss.  While Chris has more touchdowns than Jaxon Shipley on the season, he wasn't necessarily a play to play difference maker on the Texas interior.  There are capable replacements ready to take his place.

Desmond Jackson played his best game at Texas against West Virginia (2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss), in part because WVU's guard play is Kleenex, but also because he was also able to exploit the single match-ups the fourth member of our DL is guaranteed when lining up next to Brown, Jeffcoat, and Reed in ways that Whaley hadn't to date.  I criticized Jackson for lethargy in the first half of the year, but cooler weather seems to agree with him.  Oklahoma State and Texas Tech both have OL woes - DJack has a real shot at asserting himself again.

Similarly, Hassan Ridgeway, though rough around the edges, is a physical force second only to Brown on the Texas interior.  His inexperience will be tested, but his ability to put an opposing guard on roller skates is impressive.  He just needs snaps.

Texas ran into trouble in Morgantown by playing our first unit excessively and with Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor looking to run 75-90 plays per game, Davis and Robinson have to be willing to bite the bullet in their substitution patterns.

The Longhorn inability to intelligently develop (or recruit) depth for what seems like forever (witness our QB debacle with Swoopes) is an area that Mack can't outsource with a panic hire.  Because it's squarely on him.  He created a program where we're now constantly borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.  There's no plan.

Johnathan Gray is another story.  While legitimately criticized for his inability to break first contact, it's more useful to note that his first contact is happening a full yard per carry past fan favorite Malcolm Brown's first contact (4.9 vs. 4.0). Take out the goal line carries and it still reveals a meaningful gap.  And the early returns on the West Virginia game revealed Gray looking to finish every run in a way he hadn't yet shown yet. That's why this injury is particularly demoralizing.  It was coming together for the sophomore.

No matter who you favor, the Gray/Brown split (we hate pastels) was a useful 1-2 punch, but it is Gray who possesses the irreplaceable skill set in the Texas counter and draw games.  Crucial to making Texas 2nd and long and 3rd and 5 not wholly dependent on Case McCoy's sidewinders.  While Brown can be strong through contact and has good vision, he's not a particularly explosive runner.  He needs to wear on a defense.  That's all well and good if your passing game is converting 3rd downs while that's happening, but without it, you end up with a scoreboard that laughs at your 25th and 26th carry going for 20+ yards.  Because you're already down 31-3.

Joe Bergeron had a very nice 4 carry sequence against West Virginia where he maximized every run given to him. Let's see if that kindled his confidence.

The X Factor is Daje Johnson.  Isn't it always?  Our uncreative under-use of him so far reeks of the DJ Monroe packages of Greg Davis yesteryear and McCoy's inability to do anything with his feet in the running game makes our end around sequence fairly laughable for any defense to deal with - we all know where the ball is going.

The Gordian Knot solution is to line up Johnson at HB and use him on draws, traps, counters, and in motion in the passing game on linebackers to provide some big play potential.

Bottom line: Whaley's loss can be overcome, Gray's loss can be overcome only with a level of creativity and innovation that we haven't yet shown.

Your thoughts?

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