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Inside the Numbers: Texas running game resurgence

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Don’t let the defense overshadow a strong season from the Longhorns on the ground.

Texas v California Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The easy thing to talk about following the 49-31 Texas Longhorns loss would be Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterbacks Mason Rudolph’s ridiculous passing line of 19-28 for 392 yards (14 yards per pass) and 3 touchdowns with 0 zero interceptions.

Or OSU running back Justice Hill picking up 25 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown despite struggling early in the season and facing a 3-4 defense. Or the 37 points given up by the Texas defense in the first half. Or the three blocked PATs, tied for most in an FBS game since 2004.

But Inside the Numbers refuses to let a good thing go to waste, and instead of dwelling on the ugly, we’ll be highlighting one of the more impressive feats of recent Texas squads — a run game that is back with authority.

17 - 148 (8.7) - 2: D’Onta Foreman rushes - rushing yards (yards per carry) - rushing TDs against OSU

10 - 106 (10.6): Chris Warren III rushes - rushing yards (yards per carry) against OSU

6 - 24 (4.0) - 2: Tyrone Swoopes rushes - rushing yards (yards per carry) - rushing TDs against OSU

D’Onta Foreman continued his romp through the 2016 season, posting yet another 100 yard effort with a trademark 8.7 yards per carry.

Chris Warren III also looked most impressive early on, picking up over 10 yards per carry.

The performances of Foreman and Warren made a mark on the Texas record books. For just the third time in school history, a pair of Texas ball carriers went over 100 yards each in consecutive games (Vince Young and Cedric Benson in 2004, Steve Worster and Jim Bertelsen in 1970).

Obviously, the health of both backs is significant for the season’s prospects moving forward. Warren left before the half with a knee injury and continues to be evaluated. Foreman left in the second half following a cheap shot in the end zone with an injury to his side; no official diagnosis has been given.

And while the 18-Wheeler package had a rougher go of things against Oklahoma State, the two rushing touchdowns by Tyrone Swoopes gave him 22 for his career, helping him move to third all time among quarterbacks in the category.

145.33 (7.03), 5: D’Onta Foreman rushing yards per game (yards per carry), season rushing TDs

91.50 (5.90), 3: Chris Warren III rushing yards per game (yards per carry), season rushing TDs

One of the biggest charges facing Charlie Strong was revitalizing a run game at Texas that had been dormant for nearly a decade. In fact, the Horns haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since Jamaal Charles in 2007, and only really threatened that mark in 2013 before Johnathan Gray’s season was cut short by injury.

Injuries may derail yet another run at the 1,000-yard mark, but Sterlin Gilbert has leveraged a rebuilt Texas offensive line into two backs with opportunities at a thousand yards.

Four games into the season, both Foreman and Warren are on track for a thousand, per #OnPaceGuy. Foreman’s pace puts him near 1,600 yards for the year and Warren’s at nearly 1,100. Their health is critical.

The performances put the pair among the best in the nation. Foreman’s 145.33 rushing yards per game is second nationally, and Warren’s 91.50 is 39th. Only Texas and Louisville, with Lamar Jackson (4th) and Brandon Radcliffe (34th), have a pair of top 40 rushers.

Gilbert was brought in to fix an offense that had been wandering in the wilderness for some time. And while many erroneously viewed the veer-and-shoot offense as a pass-happy offense, it’s been the running game that’s benefited most.

Transitioning from the passing attacks that struggled under Swoopes and former quarterback Jerrod Heard, the Texas passing game has added 77.7 passing yards per game since 2015 behind true freshman Shane Buechele. But it’s the rush attack that has improved the most, adding 94.5 yards per game compared to 2015.

It’s an offense that gets more yards (517.2 vs. 345) and converts more first downs (27.3 vs. 14.5) runs more plays (83.3 vs. 58.0) and scores more points (41.2 vs. 29.0). Sterlin Gilbert has brought the Texas offense to the modern era.

About time.