AUSTIN, Texas -- Nearly 11 months ago, before the celebration became subdued, Texas coach Mack Brown stepped in front of his team to tell the players where he had been and where they were going.
A pattern had been established, he explained. Steps his past teams had taken that were to be followed by the present one – Holiday Bowl, BCS bowl, BCS title game. It had happened twice before -- 2003, ’04, ’05 and 2007, ’08, ’09. Now, the coach told those players fresh off a Holiday Bowl win, he -- and they -- was poised to make it happen again.
Thanks to Baylor, Brown was right. With two weeks to go and the possibilities still endless, the Bears' victory over Kansas State has cleared a path for Texas to make it to a BCS bowl. Of course, that is predicated on Texas winning out, grabbing second place in the Big 12 and the almost certain BCS at-large bid that comes with it. Oh, and by the way, one of those wins would have to come at Kansas State.
But after a season of head slaps as well as some heady play, Texas, even though everything didn’t always go as planned, will gladly take it.
Now the Longhorns just have to figure out how to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them by the Baptist school to the north. By the way, had West Virginia managed to either make an extra point or a two-point conversion, the Longhorns faithful, giddy with the possibility of a conference title, might have been bowing in the direction of Morgantown, as well.
Enough about what others did while Texas watched. For Texas to seize the opportunity, there is one thing it must do against TCU and Kansas State: run it early and often.
Kansas State is susceptible to the run. Baylor had 16 rushing plays of 10 yards or more. And although TCU is No. 7 nationally against the run, it has not played a dominant run team. The Horned Frogs did play against Joseph Randle, and they gave up 126 to the Oklahoma State running back in a loss.
Over the past four victories, Texas has proved it can be successful running the football. That is why, by the way, Mike Davis has been open for so many passes down the field. The Longhorns are averaging 201.5 rushing yards per game in their past four. In the two games before that, both losses, Texas averaged 104.5 rushing yards.
Of course, some of that has to do with the defenses presented by Oklahoma and West Virginia as well as the defense presented by the past four opponents. But it is impossible to discount the emergence of Johnathan Gray and what he has meant to the run game. Gray has rushed for 361 of Texas’ 806 yards over the past four games. He had back-to-back 100-yard games in his first two starts.
The freshman’s ability to jump-cut and accelerate has given the Longhorns a player who can make a linebacker miss and get upfield for double-digit yards. Although he might not have the speed of Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk -- he went for 185 yards against Kansas State -- Gray does offer some of the same versatility in his running style and can explode to the second level. It was clear in Baylor’s win against KSU that once a runner made it past the initial wave, the Wildcats didn’t have the speed or wherewithal to tackle him.
That brings Texas to its next option, Daje Johnson. (Anyone else watch WVU’s Tavon Austin take handoff after handoff, go for 344 rushing yards and wonder why Texas didn’t try that with Johnson against the Sooners?) Johnson will be the fastest player on the field the next two games. Because of his size -- 5-foot-10, 184 -- Texas might be hesitant to run him between the tackles. But Johnson has proved when he takes the ball 7 yards deep that he has the explosion to put a defense on his heels. Johnson took a deep handoff against Baylor and exploded into the line. The gain was minimal. But the effect put the Bears on their heels, therefore allowing Texas to run Joe Bergeron more successfully and David Ash to pass over the top.
Add to all that a healthy Malcolm Brown, Texas’ most effective weapon at getting outside the tackles as well as at breaking tackles, and it appears as if the Longhorns have a chance, heck maybe even a plan, to take the next step Mack Brown talked about in December.