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Will the Texas Longhorns remain stubborn on the ground?

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Running into loaded boxes wasn't effective against Kansas.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

For head football coaches, deciding whether to be stubborn establishing the run game or to consider throwing to punish defense to open up the running game is a significant philosophical question.

At heart, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong wants to be able to run the football first and foremost.

"Well, when you look at offense, you talk to any coach, probably the first thing you want to do is try to establish the run game. It's about getting the run game going," Strong said on Monday. "Then I always have an opportunity because it's going to enable me to throw the ball."

Right now, however, the inexperience along the offensive line isn't letting Texas establish the running game first -- in rush S&P, the Horns rank No. 87 nationally, an adjusted stat that looks significantly better than the No. 120 rank in rushing yards per game.

Last weekend against Kansas, the Jayhawks loaded the box with eight and nine players for most of the game in an effort to keep the running game from generating any momentum.

Some of the criticism here and in other places has fallen on the two five-star running backs for the Longhorns. And while they both deserve some blame for not gaining much more than what's blocked for them, the real problem lies with the offensive line.

"It's just so hard for those two right now because it's all about putting a body on someone and we're not always getting a body on someone," said Strong. "It's so tough to evaluate those two running backs."

In previous weeks, Strong had said that his running backs would have to make a defender miss or run someone over. Then the Jayhawks sent so many defenders at the line of scrimmage in holding Texas to 111 yards on 36 carries, with 30 of those yards coming on the reverse to freshman wide receiver Armanti Foreman, that it was clear Strong and his offensive staff were being stubborn with the running game, forcing it when nothing was there.

Strong cited running the football as a part of the Texas identity and talked about building an attitude as a team. He also acknowledged how difficult it is mentally for Brown and Gray at the moment.

"I know they may get frustrated at times by where we are right now, and that offensive line is going to have to continue to develop each and every game and just get better and better."

Whatever frustrations Brown and Gray may be experiencing at this time, it isn't showing in practice according to play caller Shawn Watson.

"They probably give the most positive energy out there on the practice field with the offensive line," he said. "They've been outstanding teammates and really great leaders."

So what are the answers?

Schematically in the running game, Watson added the speed option against Kansas to little positive effect, though Strong thought the issue wasn't the play calls or the apparent lack of aptitude of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes running the play, but rather the direction the plays were going.

"What happened with the speed is it's all about getting it checked to the right side because you like to run it into pressure," Strong said. "One time we ran it away from the pressure, and then they're standing there with two guys to the outside, so you're not going to have success. If you run into the pressure, then if a guy takes a quarterback and he pitches it, he has a chance to go off and run it."

So expect that play to remain a part of the playbook, even though the use of it has been widely panned in recent days.

There are also the sweep plays that Texas has been running, including the jet sweep that didn't appear against Kansas after debuting against UCLA, as well as the running back screen game, a part of the offense that has diminished significantly in effectiveness since the 2012 season and hasn't provided the Horns anything this year.

The other solution, of course, and the solution that will probably present the greatest short-term potential for success, is to throw the football deep more often to impact opposing safeties and linebackers.

"We can take pressure off that line because just by throwing the football you can open up the run game because now you make people defend the pass and you make big plays in the passing game," Strong said. "That's why I always talk to our wide receivers about if you catch a 5-yard hitch or a 10 yard, any type of crossing route, let's try to turn it into a big play. Then, we can get the [line]backers to loosen up some and then we can pull the pressure off of the run game so now it can enable us to run the ball."

It sounds like something of a broken record at this point because the basic facts haven't changed since the BYU game, but until Texas can create big passing plays down the field, opponents aren't going to worry about getting beat over the top and will instead focus on stopping the run and keeping Texas passes in front of defenders who can rally to the football.

In the end, it's basic football arithmetic.

Where are the Horns in that process?

Swoopes had several opportunities against Kansas, missing on most of them other than the ad-lib bomb on the run that found the hands of leaping senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley.

On Monday, Strong said that he's committed to throwing the deep ball any time it's there and noted that Swoopes has to be a better job of staying in the pocket when he's not under immediate pressure. Circling back around to the offensive line -- the group has to protect well to even allow Swoopes the opportunity to get the ball vertical.

Getting guys like Foreman more involved in the short passing game could create those chunk yardage plays that Strong wants because of he's one of the few players on the team who can break tackles. It's also possible that junior wide receiver Daje Johnson returns this weekend after missing the first four games due to suspension. The Texas head coach said on Monday that he will sit down with the speedster this week to discuss his status.

Injuries and suspensions have forced the Texas coaching staff to adjust on the fly and Watson was candid on Tuesday in discussing the difficulties that the coaches are facing.

"It's a challenge but that's what we're hired on to do. You have to use all your resources that you have available and be creative with what you've got. It's a challenge. We've had to play to what we can do."

The problem is, the offense doesn't have a clear identity right now and that's impacting the run game and the passing game.

In that sense, Strong sounded resigned to the current predicament of the offense on Monday.

"It's what we have right now, and that's all we have.

And so the Texas offense will continue to muddle along as offensive line coach Joe Wickline tries to mold his group into a cohesive unit capable of helping the offense forge a true identity.