AUSTIN, Texas – Run, run, run. That's all Texas coach Mack Brown wants to talk about.
For a program that won 25 games the past two seasons throwing the ball behind one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NCAA history, an iron-fisted commitment to building a punishing running game seems a bit drastic.
Texas will still throw the ball. But what Brown wants is a blood-and-guts running game that will get the tough yards and first downs "when we need it."
Texas couldn't get those against Alabama in a 37-21 loss in the BCS championship game last season. When quarterback Colt McCoy got hurt early in the first quarter, Texas' first drive fizzled at the goal line and the Longhorns settled for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
And when Texas needed to control the ball and reorganize behind backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert, six possessions went three plays or fewer before Texas limped into halftime trailing 24-6.
Since then, Texas has spent many days in spring drills and fall training camp working on building a bulldozing rushing attack, pushing the offensive line to be more physical. Four years of pass blocking for McCoy can put a line on its heels when it's time to lean into a 300-pound defensive tackle.
"The line has really taken it upon themselves and gotten an attitude," Gilbert said. "The running backs have done a great job of getting downhill and being able to get 4 or 5 yards a pop, so that's been really good for us so far."
Texas has often been synonymous with a solid running game in its history.
The Wishbone offense was invented here under coach Darrell Royal in the 1960s. Running backs Earl Campbell (1977) and Ricky Williams (1998) won Heisman trophies.
In the past 10 years, Cedric Benson piled up 5,540 career yards on a school-record 1,112 carries from 2001-2004. Jamaal Charles' 1,619 yards in 2007 stands as the fifth best in school history.
But no Longhorns rusher has come even close to 1,000 yards the past two seasons. McCoy led Texas rushers in 2008. Tre' Newton led the Longhorns in 2009 with 552 yards.
Texas averaged 4.0 yards per rush last season, a solid mark. But in the last two games against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game and Alabama, the Longhorns totaled just 99 yards on 66 carries, an average of 1½ yards.
The overall drop-off in recent years appears to have hurt Texas on the recruiting trail. Brown, who can usually charm top recruits to Austin with the snap of a finger, has struggled lately to land the traditional big, game-breaking running backs of Texas lore.
That could soon change. Malcolm Brown of San Antonio, one of the top running back recruits in the nation, has verbally committed to sign with Texas in 2011.
Texas started four tailbacks at different times last season and entered training camp with Newton and Fozzy Whittaker battling for the No. 1 role. Whittaker has seen sporadic action the past two seasons while battling injuries. Newton, the son of former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton, took over the position in the second half of last season.
Cody Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 250-pound bowling ball of a tailback has been a pleasant surprise in training camp and has forced his way into the rotation.
Johnson has 24 career touchdowns and ran for 109 yards in his only start last season against Baylor. Conditioning and weight problems kept him from playing more.
"He's come back and lost 4 or 5 percent body fat this summer. He's still the same weight but he's in great shape," Brown said. "I think we got onto him so much that we got discouraged, very honestly. You can't do it as a coach, the young man has to do it and this summer he did it on his own."