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Texas turning to O-line when it counts

AUSTIN, Texas -- Sure, having a freshman as talented as Malcolm Brown would help any rushing attack.

And having a stable of backs that includes Fozzy Whittaker, Cody Johnson and D.J. Monroe doesn't hurt, either.

But the core reason Texas' running game has been much more productive this season is a fundamental change in the blocking schemes.

"It's a downhill blocking scheme," tight end coach Bruce Chambers said.

That seems reasonable. Runners want to run downhill to gain more yards, to move the chains, to score more touchdowns. But that is not the way Texas blocked last season.

"It's not so sideways, it is more a downhill point of attack," Chambers said.

Because of the new offensive scheme brought in by co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, the offensive linemen are now required to do more than just maintain position to make holes. They must get a forward push, and be aggressive in expanding the running lanes.

"Coach Harsin's done a great job of calling plays, and he's brought a lot of different things to the table that I've really enjoyed -- the misdirection and the schemes we have," offensive line coach Stacy Searels said. "A lot of the schemes we have up front are simple, basic schemes. Gap schemes, zone schemes. But when they're put into the whole package, it makes it easier for us to block."

That translates to easier yards. Well, maybe not too easy. The scheme still requires talented and disciplined runners. And those runners are starting to better understand just what is expected of them.

"I feel like we're starting to get a rhythm on how we really want to attack," Whittaker said.

That rhythm might be more important to a younger guy like Brown than it is to Whittaker. Being a veteran means knowing how to set up blocks. Young players such as Brown have a tendency to force the issue. But Whittaker has been able to help the freshmen with that, and he said he has seen them improve on reading blocks.

"Just going over the film -- we always go over the film every Sunday -- and seeing the way [Brown is] reading his blockers," Whittaker said. "And he's being more patient with them and you know [co-offensive coordinator Major] Applewhite has done a good job coaching him up and helping him get better. And his relationship with the line has helped him improve already."

Brown's relationship with the defense is a little more punishing, and that is helping gain extra yards.

"His upside is that he's made yards after contact," Applewhite said. "The first guy typically doesn't bring him down."

That means when somebody maybe misses a block or doesn't get to the point of attack quickly enough, Brown can see the hole, plow through the would-be tackler and get to the next level of the defense.

Add it up and Texas has averaged 226 rushing yards per game. Last season the Longhorns averaged 150.5. And while all those rushing yards are vital, they signal both Texas' commitment to the run game and its bullish behavior up front.

Texas has rushed for 247 yards in the fourth quarter this season.

"We always want to wear people out those first three quarters -- take something out of them each play," Searels said. "And in the fourth quarter you want to be successful. You want to run the ball and put some points on the board."

In the two games in which Texas had a comfortable lead going into the fourth quarter -- Rice and UCLA -- it consistently pounded the ball. Against UCLA, Texas ran the ball 20 times in 21 plays for 88 yards. Against Rice, Texas ran the ball 20 of 26 times for 123 yards.

"When guys are having fun at doing something, they really, really want to work hard at doing that," Chambers said. "And this offense is a really, really fun offense."

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.

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