The Texas Longhorns must win out if they want to have any chance at winning a Big 12 Championship, and for that to prove true, Texas will have to utilize its bye week to make some adjustments. One major adjustment the team must make is to commit to running the football. If Texas has any chance at a Big 12 Championship, it will be through the use of their rushing attack.
Texas ran the football 31 times for 126 yards on Saturday against TCU. In the meantime, the Longhorns threw the ball 48 times for 321 yards against the Horned Frogs. Becoming overly reliant on the passing game is not a new issue for this Texas offense, and this fact is especially glaring in their losses.
Texas averages 168 rushing yards per game, but in their three losses, that averaged regresses to only 109 yards. Furthermore, in those three losses, the Longhorns only average 33 rush attempts per game. The number of called rushing plays per game is significantly less than that, however, considering that seventeen of those rushing attempts per game come from the quarterback position, while only sixteen attempts per game come from the running back position.
On the season, Texas is ranked No. 99 nationally in rushing play percentage, running the ball 46.88 percent of the time. They rank No. 96 in in rushing yards percentage, with 35.36 of their yardage coming on the ground.
This has led many to believe that the Texas football team simply cannot run the football, but that’s not the case.
The 11-percent differential between rush play percentage and rush yard percentage is about average for the NCAA. When analyzing the most dynamic offense in the nation, this becomes apparent — Oklahoma runs the football 56.16 percent of the time, accounting for only 42.14 percent of their rushing yards, a difference of 14 percent.
The fact is further supported in that while Texas ranks No. 99 in the nation in rush play percentage, they rank No. 53 with an average of 4.5 yards per rush.
The advanced analytics paint an even more clear picture of Texas’ success running the football.
Texas ranks No. 16 in the nation in line yards per carry with an average of 2.94. On standard downs, Texas is even better, ranking No. 12 in line yards per carry with an average of 2.96 line yards in non-passing situations. When four or more yards are available, Texas gains at least four yards 52.7 percent of the time, good for No. 20 in the FBS.
The most telling statistic is that Texas is only stuffed on 13.3 percent of their rushing attempts, ranking No. 10 in the country. That means Texas picks up positive yardage nearly 87 percent of the time when they run the football.
The Texas run game is not as explosive as some other teams, ranking No. 53 nationally with 4.5 yards per rush — the Horns rank No. 25 in runs of 10 or more yards, but tied for 104th in rushing yards of 20 yards or more with only seven. This is likely why the Texas offensive staff does not consistently insist on running the football and staying ahead of the chains.
But the fact that Texas does not gain big chunks of yardage on the ground does not change the fact that they are successful running the football.
Once again, this team picks up at least four yards 52.7 percent of the time when running the football and positive yards 87 percent of the time. Sticking with the run game allows the offense to stay ahead of the chains and sustain drives. This will also open up plays in the passing game as opposing secondaries and linebackers begin putting themselves out of position by peeking into the backfield.
Another positive side effect of running the football is that it slows down the game. While this may not be a part of Tom Hermans strategy in most years, this year, it is important due to the defensive struggles, especially late in games. Perhaps running the football would help keep the defense fresh late in the game and minimize the opponent’s ability to run up the score.
This is not to say that Texas cannot run the ball and play tempo at the same time — the Longhorns should use tempo just like a pitcher in baseball changes the speed of his pitches to deceive the batter. Running the football, however, will result in more time with the ball, regardless of tempo.
Additionally, 4.5 yard per rush average does not tell the entire story since as sack yardage is counted against rush yardage when measuring yards per carry. When looking at the top three Texas rushers, Sam Ehlinger, Keaontay Ingram, and Roschon Johnson, after sack yardage is removed from the rushing yards per carry, Texas averages 5.6 yards per carry. Ehlinger is the best in this statistical category, averaging 6.64 yards per carry, while Ingram averages 5.0 yards per carry and Johnson averages 5.3 yards per carry.
The statistics are clear: Texas is running the football with its fair share of success. The offensive line creates yards for the Longhorns’ ball carriers, allowing them to pick up positive yardage the vast majority of the time. The problem is, Texas does not consistently employ their rushing offense in standard downs, and that’s been especially evident in their three losses.