There's something viscerally satisfying about the running game.
Advanced statistics tell us that - should we have to choose - efficiency throwing the ball is generally better for your win column. And we know that every rule change of the last thirty years in football was to promote the forward pass. Teams now routinely line up hybrid small forward-track sprinters at wide receiver, this is the Golden Age of the pass catching TE, the proliferation of 7 on 7s and passing instruction has created a surfeit of classy passers, and the sophistication of the passing game in most Texas high school spread offenses surpasses what most colleges were doing a decade ago. Or last year in Austin.
Throwing the ball is also exciting. Every play carries the possibility that something downfield will break and you're only one sweet throw and catch from a goalpost crossbar dunk.
The running game. It's so freaking...satisfying. Throw a receiver eligible number on a 6-7 295 pound Brenham sasquatch mullet wearing cleats on his ropers and call him a TE, line up a 230 halfback with bad intentions and a prison stare behind a 250 pound fullback, run a bunch of fleet midgets on end arounds and out of the Wildcat to keep 'em guessing, and then tell your offensive line to pick a fight for four quarters.
Running on another team at will is the ultimate imposition of will. And where's there a will, there's a way.
To bowl eligibility, at least.
I can't affix the term game manager to an efficient QB who broke a 47 yard run and whose 4 completions averaged 31.3 yards a catch while amassing 172 yards from scrimmage on only 11 plays. If so, that's pretty good game management. Without our best WR and facing a vulnerable Red Raider front 7, it's pretty clear that our lowest risk-high reward option was running the ball up their asses until a breeze made it whistle. So we did. Ash had one bad throw, several good throws (including two veteran throwaways that made me tear up - our boy is growing up) and he looked comfortable throughout.
Most encouragingly, he's now consistently demonstrating the ability to audible us into the proper run play when the defense shows him something he doesn't like. That's a huge deal and an underrated aspect of QB play. It's not enough to outnumber us - you have to outnumber us correctly or you're just going to hemorrhage where that safety was.
Case McCoy got in for a quarter during garbage time and threw a nice TD ball to Darius White. The hoopleheads cheered TEAM CHEMISTRY GUTTY WINNERNESS, but I quietly pumped my fist that this little success gives us the chance of capturing White's attention this week.
Malcolm, I'd like to tell you a story of a man named Wally Pipp...
Just kidding. Actually, the great thing about RB in a running offense is that when there are 40-60 carries to distribute every game, sharing the load isn't just a compromise - it's our best means of winning.
So, Joe Bergeron. I'm not going to make a comparison to Ricky Williams. I'm not going to make a comparison to Ricky Williams. I'm not going to...OK, sometimes he reminds me of Ricky Williams. The casual power, the little steps before the burst, the ability to dead leg defenders while still moving, and, most of all, the hip flexibility to get his legs up when safeties and linebackers try to paint his shins.
If you go back and read my preseason stuff or the Asset's constant harping in El Reports De Jesus, the consistent theme was: Joe Bergeron is real. Before Kansas, I was starting to think I'd succumbed to Burnt Orange Kool Aid - what are the odds that this freshman class has two top tier RBs? - but now I understand what people were seeing in practice. 29 carries, 191 yards, 3 TDs. Take out his longest run and he still averaged 5 a pop. And he did it with economy, anger, and style.
Fozzy Whittaker has been our most consistent asset (not The Asset, mind you) since the UCLA game. He ran the Wildcat 7 times and we scored on 3 of them. 10 carries for 83 yards and he showed decisiveness, surprising power (he keeps trucking people every week - anyone else noticing this?), and great vision. He's also running back every kick return like his mama calling him from the other end zone. 151 All Purpose Yards on 13 touches and an elegant solution to our red zone woes. Captain America doesn't know how to quit.
Glad Donald Junior got in the end zone. His threat on the Wildcat is crucial to its effectiveness and we can't go off tackle with Fozzy nearly so adeptly without the linebackers sweating DJ coming across.
Major Applewhite: love you, dude, but a running back, just like a race horse, will show you when he's done running. For the second straight week, you left our stud RB in during a blowout win when they were starting to lather. Injury ensues. I understand statement. I understand finishing. I understand toughness. Now cut it out. Thank you.
If we'd made a concerted effort to get Mike Davis 180 yards receiving and couple of touchdowns, that would have happened. As it was, he had to settle for 2-72 and an overthrown deep ball that would have gone for six. In reviewing the game, all of our WRs blocked their asses off. Goodwin chipped in a 37 yard reception and two carries for 45 yards. He's starting to find his football legs and he's striding a lot better on faux grass and certainly better than foie gras. Really encouraged that White had some success.
Sometimes talent isn't developed. Or recruited. It's just redefined. Three weeks ago, Luke Poehlmann was a career back-up OT passed over by a true freshman when we demoted Tray Allen. That's not good. A fair assessment of his balance sheet showed that he was always aggressive, high motor, and enjoyed run blocking, but he was too light, played in a pass-first offense in which he was rarely the aggressor, and never mastered the subtle balance ballet to handle pass rushers consistently. Then he got injured and lost a lateral step.
So we put on a TE jersey on him.
Suddenly, the undersized LBs and DEs that used to run by him are lined up squarely on him or - joy of all joys - he's now blocking down on them while a backside OL kicks out. Now he's the aggressor. Suddenly, that orneriness serves a purpose and his desire to lunge forward isn't a pass blocking detriment. And now 6-7 290 doesn't seem so light when 230, 240, 255 has to line up head up on him. And that's a big wingspan to work through when he decides to shield you from an inside run. And when you're running the ball, who cares how many pass rushing moves Scott Smith has?
Now our career back-up OL is an enormously effective blocking TE and an integral part of our running game.
To Harsin, a kidney stone is a paper weight.
I don't want to cut into Longhorn Scott's schtick since I can't match his Soothing Sounds of the 80s voice or match his Professorial Wookie vibe, but this simple play highlights what we're starting to do really well on the OL.
Thanks youtube guy
Bergeron didn't do much on that play other than execute. His most impressive runs in this game actually went for 3, 6, 11 yards. This is a lay-up. Why?
That 51 yard stroll happened not because of the Texas OL's smash mouth physicality (default announcer explanation), but because of our OL's mobility and coordination within the scheme. And trust me - although smash mouth sounds better, the latter is what will allow us to run the ball on anyone if we keep it up. The play is enabled by a series of fold blocks that gives our guys leverage and angle advantage. The stuff I've been preaching since my first excoriations of Tim Nunez and Greg Davis back in the early 00's.
The key to this play is (#78) Snow. He blocks down on the Tech DT and completely turns him. Without that block, the rest of this can't unfold cleanly. It allows (#55) Espinosa to snap the ball, fold around Snow as a pulling center without losing depth, and lead up in the hole. The Tech LB (#25) never has a chance. You have to be damn athletic to do that and now you know why the Longhorn coaches kept mentioning Espinosa's bad ankle pre-bye week. It disallowed this kind of play.
OT (#68) Josh Cochran demonstrates his own impressive mobility - he's off the ball like a shot and kicks out on the Tech safety playing the edge (Cody Davis, I believe). Most offensive tackles lose in space on smaller defenders and end up getting matadored, but Cochran has a weird knack for tracking little guys down. This happens time and again throughout the game, in fact. Cochran isn't man-strong yet, but he has a motor and he's high energy.
DJ Grant, who is generally not a sound blocker, competes on this play and successfully neutralizes the outside DL defender enough to get Joe the soft corner. Nice job, DJ.
This wasn't a triumph of force. It was smart, well-schemed football executed flawlessly. Short side, off-tackle, single back - all tendency breakers. So when guys like Longhorn Scott and I praise our coaches, even in defeat, we're not being Kool-Aid drinkers. When the process is right, the results will come. You have to believe that.
That play is a microcosm of what our OL did repeatedly throughout the game. It does bear mentioning that when we ran to Walters-Hopkins, we tended towards more straight power plays. And those guys - particularly when Luke P lined up next to them - were manhandling people.
Our OL played a near perfect game. One sack and a couple of tackles for loss are part of doing business. 439 yards rushing at 8.1 yards a pop with six touchdowns? 595 total yards at 9.4 yards per play? Those are crazy numbers. I don't care who you're playing.
We lit up a bad defense in a pretty big way. Our OL made Tech's DL look like an anal prolapse. We couldn't dream of doing that against Rice. In fact, we were manufacturing offense with smoke and mirrors against the Owls. That's legitimate progress. So let's ramp up the competition now that we've had three weeks to gain confidence and see what we've learned since OU and OSU.