Malcolm Brown is three games into his junior season, so there is time for him to resuscitate his career.
But it is fair to question whether Brown will ever become the elite college tailback many anticipated he would be when he arrived in 2011 out of Cibolo Steele High School.
Brown was ranked by some recruiting analysts as the No. 1 prospect in the nation at running back in the class of 2011. He gained nearly 6,700 yards and scored 86 rushing touchdowns in four seasons on the varsity.
But he missed eight games in his first two years at Texas and has played this season on a sore ankle. He has carried just 11 times for 15 yards in three games. His one highlight is a 74-yard touchdown against New Mexico State after catching a short pass from David Ash.
Even before the season, Brown’s struggles were not a favorite topic for Major Applewhite, the Longhorns’ co-offensive coordinator who coached running backs in 2011 and 2012.
“He’s had some unfortunate breaks, but it’s part of the game,” Applewhite said back in August. “Let’s not make it a drama series.”
Applewhite was asked about Brown again on Monday. He had little to say.
“He’s doing well,” Applewhite said, sounding uncomfortable. “Doing fine.”
Even so, head coach Mack Brown said Brown has not been in top physical form.
“He’s had a tweaked ankle,” Brown said, acknowledging the tailback was hurting for the first time this season. “He’s continuing to try to work through that. Malcolm has played hard. He has a very positive attitude.”
Brown led the Longhorns in rushing as a freshman, gaining 742 yards with an average of 4.3 a carry. He exceeded 100 yards three times. But toe and foot injuries prevented him from playing in three games toward the end of the season.
He started fast in 2012, gaining more than 100 yards in two of the first three games, including 128 at Mississippi. Then Brown suffered a sprained ankle at Oklahoma State. He missed the next five games and was never the same when he returned, carrying 21 times for 79 yards in Texas’ final four games.
The Longhorns haven’t had a useful identity on offense since Colt McCoy left after the 2009 season.
Even so, Brown — unavailable for interviews this week — looked forward to the 2013 season, anticipating that he, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron would alternate at tailback, each presenting a different challenge to opponents.
So far, only Gray has accomplished anything, gaining 181 yards in the last two games after opening with just 28 against New Mexico State. Bergeron has carried 19 times for 104 yards. Brown has those 11 carries.
The Longhorns average 205 yards a game rushing, third best in the Big 12, with a tidy 5.2 yards-per-carry mark. But 359 of their 615 yards came against overmatched New Mexico State. Texas averaged less than four yards a try in the next two games.
Texas is far from producing the running game that Mack Brown envisioned, or at least hoped would develop — the type that could succeed against any opponent.
The Longhorns have their usual issues up front moving defenders off the line of scrimmage. And they trailed so badly in the second half of the last two games that they couldn’t afford to run much.
What a quick turn of events. Less than a month ago, when the Longhorns anticipated a season of enjoyable possibilities, some of them went out to Lake Travis one day when they had time off from practice.
Brown, not much of a swimmer, was coaxed into deep water by his teammates, jumping in while wearing a life jacket and a floatie on each arm.
“Peer pressure, I guess,” Brown later said.
Brown was scared at the time. But if something doesn’t change soon, taking that awkward leap might turn out to be the best part of his year.
TEXAS VS. KANSAS STATE
7 p.m. Saturday, ABC, 1300, 98.1
BROWN, AT TEXAS
Most attempts: 28, vs. Kansas (2011)
Most rush yards: 135, vs. Oklahoma State (2011)
100-yard games: 5
Longest carry: 31 yards, vs. Wyoming (2012)