No Devwah Whaley? No problem.
The Texas Longhorns may not even need the state's top running back in 2016 after the record-setting performance by freshman running back Chris Warren against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Thanksgiving Day.
After entering the game with only 88 yards and zero touchdowns on 18 career carries, there were still question marks about how well Warren could transition to the college game. The last two backs of his size brought in by the Longhorns eventually ended up as defensive tackles, after all. And given Warren's aptitude for playing defensive end in high school, the possibility lingered that the 6'2, 232-pounder's future wasn't even on the offensive side of the ball.
Until Thursday, that is.
Warren hadn't done much all season or in his first career start until he took a handoff from the Pistol, got low, and eventually made contact with no fewer than seven Texas Tech defenders on the way to a 91-yard touchdown, the fourth-longest run in school history. Seven!
Early in the season, Warren looked tentative and hesistant when hitting the line of scrimmage and often struggled with his pad level. Against Texas Tech, however, Warren looked like a different back, running with incredible strength behind his pads and breaking tackles on seemingly every run, ending one by carrying All-Conference performer Pete Robertson on his back. Robertson is an outside linebacker who goes 6'3 and 239 pounds.
Putting Waren in the Pistol was a paticularly important wrinkle for him, as it allowed him to get the ball with some downhill momentum towards the line of scrimmage instead of forcing him to receive the ball from a standstill out of the shotgun. So while playing against one of the worst run defenses in the country helped Warren, that's a look that the Horns will need to continue using to maximize Warren's skill set.
Most impressive was Warren's ability to cut with precision despite his high center of gravity. Sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman, for instance, is two inches shorter and a little bit heavier than Warren, but tends to round off his cuts on outside zone. Warren, on the other hand, showed the ability several times to plant and explode up the field in addition to making sharp cuts after finding a seam.
Guys of his size aren't supposed to be able to change direction like that.
And keep in mind that Warren ran a verified 4.62 40-yard dash in high school and topped out at 10.73 in the 100-meter dash -- he can really move for someone his size. In fact, it wouldn't be hyperbole to point out the fact that he has an elite combination of size and speed, the major reason why he was the No. 77 player nationally and the No. 8 running back in the country last year, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Warren finished with 25 carries for 276 yards and four touchdowns, the latter a feat accomplished by only 10 other Longhorns in school history. The 276 yards ranks No. 6 on the all-time single-game list for Texas. Since there weren't any other scholarship true running backs available as Texas tried to preserve the redshirt of Tristian Houston, it was all on Warren on Thursday night. He appeared to get winded once, but otherwise showed himself to be in tremendous physical condition in finishing the game stronger than the Texas Tech defenders he punished for several quarters.
One person who wasn't surprised by the effort was head coach Charlie Strong, who was vocal in letting Warren know he was set to have a big performance.
"I told Chris Warren before the game, I said, ‘I guarantee you have a breakout game; you'll probably have 200 yards rushing.'"
Maybe Strong won't underestimate his young running back so much next time.
"We knew what we had with him," Strong said. "He's just a big, strong, physical runner, and you look at him, he can break tackles, he can run through people, and that's why I wasn't concerned going into this game. Everybody kept saying, well, you've got two down, but I knew we'd be okay with the running game with him."
Besides those physical tangibles, Warren also possesses a remarkable maturity level that has already endeared himself to his head coach. After the Texas Tech game, Strong told the story of how Warren had a chance to enter the game late against Kansas State to replace senior Johnathan Gray. Warren declined, noting that Gray was close to surpassing 100 yards and wanted the team leader to hit that mark for the first time in 2015.
"The thing about him, he just continues to work, practices hard, and doesn't say much at all," Strong said. "He knew his opportunity was going to come, and he took full advantage of it tonight."
Wtih Foreman emerging as an explosive threat, Warren providing a slightly different skill set at a similar size, and freshman Kirk Johnson flashing his own speed against Texas Tech, the running game for Texas looks like it will be in strong shape for the coming years, especially with freshmen Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe providing the backbone of the offensive line and Caleb Bluiett, Peyton Aucoin, and Demarco Boyd providing short-term and potential long-term solutions as extra blockers.
Put that all together and the next Texas offensive coordinator will have strong foundation upon which to build his attack.