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November 10, 2011--- The Texas ground game has been a bit of a revolving door all year, with players shuttling in and out from play to play, series to series and game to game. Last week, it was Joe Bergeron's turn to handle most of the workload. Bergeron figures to factor in heavily again this week, but co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said Malcolm Brown has made progress from his turf toe injury.
"He looked good. He looked really good," Applewhite said of Brown when asked about Wednesday's practice.
Applewhite said Brown could have played last week had Texas needed him, but once Bergeron got rolling and Texas took control of the game, the coaches decided to keep Brown on the sideline to rest his injury.
"Malcolm had practiced last week as well. He wasn't doing as well as he is this week so we just decided to hold him," Applewhite said.
--- With so many effective ball carriers, Applewhite said one of the challenges is that there are only so many practice snaps to go around each week. It's hard to make sure each player gets the types of looks he needs to see. But, Applewhite said, having a lot of talent at the RB position is a nice problem to have and he's fortunate to have a unique group that doesn't sit around and count how many snaps each player gets.
"It is a blessing to have guys that aren't selfish. They want to get better and hone their own skills. They also understand it's a long season. It's a long season and some guys are going to get nicked," Applewhite said. "So some guy has got to be ready to roll. They're also excited that we're running the football a whole bunch right now. They're just ecstatic about that."
--- With Texas running the ball so well in the last two weeks, Applewhite said the staff has had to guard against complacency.
"With the recent success of just the last 14 days, you've got to make sure they stay hungry, that there's not a complacency that sets in," he said. "It's great to have success, but you've also got to learn how to deal with that, how to handle it weekly."
And how does he keep the guys focused?
"The great thing is that they're starting off as good people. They're not starting out as arrogant or complacent, 'I've arrived' kind of guys. So that helps me out quite a bit," Applewhite said. "The fact that they had good things instilled in them as they've grown up and gone through athletics. That's really helped. Great parenting. Great coaching.
"So they come in wanting to learn. And the fact that two of the three are really young, they have a lot to learn. And then you've got Fozzy (Whittaker) who is just a great person all around. So that obviously helps as well.
--- Applewhite said, once again, that people are making way too much of how carries will be divided or about which player will start. All of the backs are going to be counted on to help the team win ball games, he said, and a starter hasn't been decided. The backs on such even footing that the starter could simply come down to the opening play-call.
"We don't have the opener (play). There's certain packages in our offense. And I know in the Iowa State game there was a package that didn't even have a running back. So if we would have called that play first, we wouldn't have even started a running back," Applewhite said. "The whole 'who comes out there first,' especially in this offense because there are sometimes 25, 30, 40 personnel groupings going into a game, it's doesn't really matter."
Applewhite said the coaches will look at the carries throughout the course of the game. If a player gets fatigued, that's an obvious way to split reps but Applewhite said it also comes down to personnel packages.
"We just look at it throughout the course of the game, as the game's flowing on if we feel like a guy is getting spent. Or he comes to us and says, 'Hey, I'm tired. I don't feel good. Can another guy give me a break?' We use that as a way to naturally break up the reps and the carries," Applewhite said. "But also our packages. Because of what packages are called, certain guys just aren't in the game. So that helps as well."
--- Fozzy Whittaker has been tremendously successful in running the ball out of the wildcat formation. A lot of people have noticed that Fozzy usually keeps the ball, but that's been by design.
"Typically there is not a read element on it in terms of allowing him to read, but we're getting there. We have that. We're making moves," Applewhite said.
--- Bergeron cramped up on his 29th and final carry of the Texas Tech game but he's been workout out with the team all week.
"He did pretty well. He went out there on Sunday with the team, ran with the team. He looked good," Applewhite said. "He was out there again (Wednesday night) at practice.
--- There's been lots of talk lately about Texas being one-dimensional on offense. Applewhite agreed and said the coaches would like to be balanced, but they're also not stubborn enough to abandon what's working.
"It's like Bryan (Harsin) said last week, if something's working we're not going to abandon it just because we want to do something (else). We're not going to impose our own will on the game and what's working for the kids," Applewhite said. "So the run game was working well. Then when we felt like they got down too far, we let Ash throw the ball and it resulted in some explosive plays. We understand we're going to have to throw the ball more as the season goes on and people are going to start defending us better."
--- It's no secret that Mack Brown has always wanted to feature an offense with big backs that could impose its will on defenses. To Mack's credit, he's been willing to do whatever it takes to win ball games, and prior to this year that's meant throwing the ball all over the field while the ground game stalled. In years past, with the UT run game falling under intense scrutiny, that had been rumblings from some people close to the program that the overwhelming majority of UT's practice time centered on the passing game, making it hard to run the ball consistently well.
Texas has its dominant ground game this year and Applewhite said it starts with Brown.
"It takes an attitude and that attitude has to come from the top. I think it comes from coach Brown wanting to run the football. We've practiced it more, we've spent more time on the range, so to speak, practicing it," Applewhite said. "That's why we've gotten better. I don't think there's any magic little thing about that. I think it's just getting out there and doing it over and over and over again and creating a mentality."
--- The Texas WRs are the unsung heroes in the ground game, helping block downfield and springing some big runs. It's probably not the role those guys signed up for, but they've all bought in.
"Coach (Darrell) Wyatt makes it very clear. Simply, you're not going to play if you don't block. It's very, very clear," Applewhite said. "They understand that's not why (they) came to Texas. (They) came to run routes and catch balls and that's why we recruited them. But sometimes you have to play without the ball in your hands. Sometimes as a back you have to pass-protect. So you've got to learn how to be a complete player."
--- With Texas not throwing the ball very much, an obvious question is how it could impact UT's wide receiver recruiting efforts, especially with Texas still chasing some top prospects, including the nation's top player in Dorial Green-Beckham. Opposing coaches will almost certainly point to the Horns' limited pass attempts in their recruiting efforts, but Texas has ways to counter those arguments.
"It doesn't affect it very much. It really doesn't. We want to throw the ball better. We've lost some wide receivers over the last couple years. 'Hey we're running the ball a whole bunch, why don't you come help us throw it better?' That's more or less or angle," Applewhite said
"If you're getting into recruiting, you're getting into sales, it's 'Hey we've got a young quarterback and he's going to be greater down the stretch. That's why you need to come to Texas and be a great wide receiver. We're not throwing the ball right now so we need you to come help us, run routes, develop.' Absolutely. And guys understand that. They know coach Brown, they know coach Harsin and they know the direction of our offense and the balance that Bryan's offense had at Boise. They can see the big picture. They don't get caught up in the here and now and lose sight of it."
--- Texas DB coach Duane Akina said he likes what he's seen from Missouri QB James Franklin, and the Longhorn defenders will have to keep their heads on a swivel in case Franklin decides to make plays on the run.
"I think he poses a couple challenges with his legs. He's a very physical player," Akina said. "He seems to have a nice throwing motion. I thought he did a nice job in a stressful situation against Baylor at the end of the game and was able to make some critical throws for them. He does things that you hope your quarterback can do in a tough game on the road."
--- Quandre Diggs did a nice job in his first game as the starting punt returner, Akina said, and the Longhorns were close to really breaking a big one against Texas Tech. Along with fielding the ball cleanly, Diggs did a good job of making the first guy miss and giving himself a chance.
"I thought he did a nice job," Akina said. "I thought that there was one out there I thought he could have had a little more on that 22 yarder if the wall would have been set up right. That would have made it really exciting for everyone.
"I think he has done a nice job. He's found the crease. He did what you hope your punt returner would do, which is that he made one miss on his own to get things started."
--- I asked Akina how he grades his safety play this season, and he gave the position strong reviews.
"I think that it has been very productive. Really our three safeties ... we feel as a staff, is really one of the strengths of this football team. Kenny (Vaccaro), Blake (Gideon), Christian (Scott) ... have all played very well for us," Akina said. "They give you some flexibility because with what we've done defensively for the past 10 years, that safety position is very difficult to find players that can match up one-on-one on slot receivers and yet fall into the box and be physical on teams like this.
"We feel like they're doing a great job, and when you see the six defensive backs back there that we have had to play quite a bit in this conference, having physical safeties that can cover like Christian and Kenny playing down below really gives you some options when you start getting into your coverage packages and blitz packages. Kenny and Christian are excellent blitzers also."
--- The Texas defensive line has done a nice job of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks the last couple weeks, which makes the defensive backs' job easier. But, a couple of those sacks have been coverage sacks, so Akina said it's equally important that his secondary continue to do things to help out the pass rushers.
"Obviously, we have always talked about that in games it starts up front on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. We all work together. In the run game the secondary is a big part of negating any long runs. In the throwing game we have to get them to the second look to give those guys up front opportunity," Akina said. "I think that in the last two games we've done a nice job. The front, particularly, has really done a nice job of getting vertical. With the games coming up here, it's a good stretch run for us, we're going to need good efforts from everybody across the board."
--- Adrian Phillips did a nice job in his return, and Akina pointed out Phillips' versatility and ability to learn things in the film room and in meetings before actually applying them to his game on the field.
"He has the ability to just learn conceptually without taking a lot of physical reps, which is a real gift," Akina said. "We are very fortunate that we have a guy like that so when you do have an injury he can plug in as a nickel, a dime, or as a safety or a corner. Other people don't have to learn as many positions because you can plug him in to a lot of different areas.
"I think he does a nice job. Everyone has their gifts and AP does a nice job in learning a lot of different positions. He takes pride in it. I think being a quarterback helped him because that has been his world growing up, knowing what everybody does."