Despite all the concern that the Texas Longhorns would struggle running the ball against a stout Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive line, the ‘Horns were able to rumble for 237 rushing yards and five touchdowns on Sunday.
This Saturday, expect Texas to employ a similar strategy against the UTEP Miners — head coach Charlie Strong prefers that physical approach and the UTEP defensive line and entire front seven is relatively small.
Defensive coordinator Tom Mason runs a 3-4 scheme with the Miners, in part to cover up a lack of size on the inside — the nose guard is listed at 6’1 and 295 pounds, while the back up at the position is the same height and 10 pounds lighter.
At the ends, there’s solid mass — 285 pounds and 275 pounds — but the Buck end is only 5’11 and 225 pounds and two of the other three starting linebackers are 6’0 or shorter.
Make no mistake, this is a solid run defense against most opponents, but UTEP finished a rather mediocre No. 71 in rushing defense S&P+ last season and simply doesn’t have the size to compete against Texas in the trenches or at the second level.
Texas Tech ran for 229 yards and five touchdowns on only 30 carries last season. An average Southern Miss rush offense gained 246 yards on the ground.
So don’t necessarily expect that Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will move away from running the ball frequently on first down — he did so 25 times in the season opener — and look for another healthy dose of senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in the 18-Wheeler package.
After all, UTEP gave up 5.24 yards per carry on first down last year, a number that Gilbert will gladly take on Saturday.
If Swoopes can avoid the three big defensive linemen for the Miners, none of the other players stand a great shot at bringing him down one on one. Just look at how badly the Fighting Irish struggled to do so late in the game, as defenders bounced off of him repeatedly on his second-to-last run and numerous other efforts.
None of that even mentions the Smash Brothers.
Junior running back D’Onta Foreman continued his emergence against Notre Dame with a complete performance — he ran the ball 24 times for 131 yards and a big touchdown while serving as an effective blocker for Swoopes.
His own game seems to be improving, too, much like Swoopes. Beyond becoming better in blitz pick up, Foreman ran with excellent pad level against the Fighting Irish, a big reason why he was able to break his 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Chris Warren was a little bit more quiet in averaging 3.3 yards per carry, but he could be more effective on Saturday at 250 or or so pounds against a smaller, less talented defense.
Even if UTEP manages to keep the game close through the first several quarters, the size, strength, and speed of the Texas running game will make it difficult for the Miners to keep up, especially due to the lack of quality depth on the team.
“We see how the tempo just wears teams down, and that's what we practiced on all summer,” Foreman said. “Coach Gilbert told us it would be like this and it worked.”
Unlike last weekend, the ‘Horns no longer have to prove that it can work — they just have to remain consistent, focused, and physical.
“I mean, I feel like we can be as powerful as we want to be,” Foreman said. “We've just got to keep working, honestly. Like I said, it doesn't stop here. We've just got to keep working.”