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Texas RB Johnathan Gray still starting because of leadership ability

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Bleeding for the program still means something, even under new head coach Charlie Strong.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Despite breaking off the third-longest run in school history on Saturday against the Kansas Jayhawks, Texas Longhorns sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman won't be the starter in Morgantown against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Senior Johnathan Gray will still maintain that role, even though Foreman has 101 more yards rushing this season on 32 fewer carries and has now doubled Gray's highlight yards per opportunity at 8.5 to 4.1.

So what's going on? Why does Gray keep trotting out with the first team without producing a run longer than six yards in his last two games?

A toe injury that Foreman sustained against Kansas State clearly limited him against Iowa State, but he's obviously healthy now, so that's not an excuse.

"The thing about J Gray, it's the leadership he provides," head coach Charlie Strong said Monday. "He's a senior. So it's not you look at the separation, one is better than the other one. They're both going to play."

Except one is better than the other and it's becoming more and more apparent each time Foreman gains yards after contact or produces the type of explosive plays that have mostly eluded Gray ever since he arrived on campus.

In light of that reality and the clear separation between the two, the leadership part of the equation seems a little bit more odd. Sure, Gray is an effective blocker, good in pass protection, and one of the few senior leaders who doesn't make big, consistent mistakes, but is Strong worried about undermining that leadership ability if Gray gets benched?

It seems like something that should be a negligible concern as Gray's continued presence in the starting lineup undermines the idea that Strong and his staff are willing to start the best players. But perhaps they don't see it that way, as Strong said the staff doesn't even keep track of the carries that each receives during the game. Strong also noted that Gray ended up carrying the ball only seven times to 12 carries by Foreman against Kansas.

Given that explanation by Strong, it's still clear, as it has been for some time, that Foreman will largely just have to wait his turn to receive the carries he deserves. If that feels like some silly, Mack Brown era favoritism, then perhaps there is nothing else to do but draw on Brown's own words in unfortunate situations.

It is what it is.