Something we’ve learned during the Longhorns’ post-apocalypse era is that they are good dancers, adept at taking steps forward and back.
Nowhere is consistency written on their résumé from these last three seasons of working under Mack Brown at trying to restore the program. Even so, there’s nothing wrong with extending them credit where it is due, and they deserve some for producing a running game — 227 rushing yards, their second-highest output since last year’s Baylor game — during last Saturday’s 31-21 victory over Kansas State.
Granted, this wasn’t Kansas State from a year ago. The Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) lost eight starters on defense from a team that was the Big 12 champion.
But they weren’t New Mexico State, either. The Longhorns (2-2, 1-0) ran through those Aggies for 359 yards and four touchdowns before they were dragged back to earth — literally — by BYU and Mississippi.
Texas gained a total of 256 yards in those two losses, averaging 3.9 a carry.
But the Longhorns were more efficient against Kansas State, averaging 4.8 yards a pop — 6.5 in the first half, when David Ash’s passes to Kendall Sanders, Jaxon Shipley and Marcus Johnson created a balance that aided the running game.
Sophomore Johnathan Gray rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries in the first half before gaining 60 more on 17 tries after Ash — who was taken out at halftime after showing symptoms of a possible concussion — left the game. That added up to a career-best 141 yards for Gray, who reached the 100-yard mark for the first time this season.
Gray reached 100 yards twice as a freshman, against Kansas and Texas Tech in consecutive games. His 106 yards at Texas Tech on Nov. 3 remained the last time a Longhorn had broken 100 until last Saturday.
Texas finished with 225 yards passing Saturday, two fewer than the running game produced.
“That’s who we need to be,” Brown said. “We did not think that we could just line up and run it. We thought we had to do both.”
Gray ran with authority and, it appeared, a degree of anger. Malcolm Brown, who gained 40 yards on nine carries, showed some quick bursts. Brown had gained 15 yards on 11 carries in the Longhorns’ first three games.
Gray seemed to enjoy the workload. His 28 carries were a career-high, too.
“Backs have to get in a rhythm,” he said.
Gray carried 12 times for only 29 yards during a defeat at Kansas State last season. But Wildcat safety Ty Zimmerman said he saw enough of Gray to know he was good.
“He’s a big, physical guy that runs hard,” Zimmerman said after the defeat Saturday “All the credit goes to Texas and how hard they played.”
Longhorns coaches and tailbacks paid homage to a collective effort.
“I thought we did a good job up front blocking,” said co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, also handing praise to the wide receivers for their blocking. “I thought our backs did a great job in breaking tackles. When you run the ball, the backs get a lot of credit. It’s the other 10 guys putting you in that position.”
Guard Trey Hopkins said the offensive line had a good week of practice before facing Kansas State.
“We made sure we were perfect on our technique and knew how to handle the movements we would see from Kansas State,” Hopkins said.
Though skeptics might disagree, Malcolm Brown said the Longhorns are capable of running like that every week.
“Obviously, you saw tonight that the offensive line was opening up those holes,” Brown said. “We can find them if they’re out there.”
TEXAS AT IOWA STATE
6:30 p.m. Oct. 3, Ames, Iowa, ESPN, 1300, 98.1
BOHLS, GOLDEN CHAT
Join columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden at 11 a.m. Wednesday for their weekly chat at statesman.com/bevobeat.
HORNS; THE BIG PICTURE
How does Texas compare?
Where the Longhorns rank in the Big 12 and nationally in various categories after four games. Parentheses show last week’s rankings:
Rush offense;3rd (3);53rd (46)
Pass offense;4th (4);41st (31)
Pass efficiency;4th (4);10th (42)
Total offense;5th (3);40th (30)
Scoring;5th (6);23rd (53)
Rush defense;10th (10);88th (121)
Pass defense;7th (5);36th (29)
Total defense;10th (10);67th (114)
Sacks;8th (10);19th (T-110)
Turnover margin;3rd (4);39th (T-40)
The season, so far
Texas 56, New Mexico State 7: David Ash, Daje Johnson lead a record-breaking offensive night.
BYU 40, Texas 21: Horns implode defensively and see Ash, Johnson get injured.
Ole Miss 44, Texas 23: No Ash, little defense and a second-half implosion against the ranked Rebels.
Texas 31, Kansas St. 21: Johnathan Gray and the defense lead Horns to Big 12-opening W.
2013 vs. 2012, 2011
How the Longhorns (2-2) compare statistically with the 2012 and 2011 teams’ averages and totals after four games (* average per game):
* average per game