After a team meeting last January, during which the Longhorns agreed to bury the memory of their loss to Alabama in the BCS title game, the Texas defense left the room for position group meetings while the entire offense remained behind. Then, offensive coordinator Greg Davis unveiled plays and formations—a quarterback under center, a fullback in the backfield, even an H-back shifting around—that barely resembled anything the Longhorns had run the previous five seasons. As Davis spoke, his running backs couldn't suppress their excitement. Recalls tailback Fozzy Whittaker, "We each had a smile on our faces."
They smiled because after four years in a pass-happy shotgun spread, the alma mater of Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams has returned to the smashmouth business. First-year starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a sophomore, will line up much more under center, and Whittaker and sophomore Tre' Newton—the likely starter—will take the handoff running "downhill" instead of standing flat-footed after getting the ball. The scheme shift is intended to pump life into a rushing attack that logged just three 100-yard games among running backs last year and averaged 147.6 yards, the program's worst since '02. "We're taking away the question mark of [our] scheme," says coach Mack Brown, whose team is 25--2 over the last two seasons. "Now it's time for the offensive line and the backs to step up. We're going to do what Ricky Williams did."
That would be easier with a runner the caliber of Williams, but running back is the one position at which the otherwise-loaded Longhorns have come up short in the last few signing days. Newton, a 6-foot, 200-pound slasher, may be the best of the bunch. Last year he ran for a team-high 552 yards. That production, Newton feels, will increase with the changes. "It enables [the backs] to make better cuts, and it allows us to see the whole field," he says. "In the shotgun you just basically see one side of the field."
The twist in philosophy has trickled down to the linemen who, after years spent passively pass-blocking, are getting the chance to drive off the line. "You can tell," Whittaker says, "that they love it." If this change works, they won't be the only ones.
CONFERENCE Big 12
COACH Mack Brown (13th year)
2009 RECORD 13--1 (8--0 in Big 12)
FINAL AP RANK 2
RETURNING STARTERS 11
Offense 5, Defense 6
4 at Rice
18 at Texas Tech
2 Oklahoma (in Dallas)
16 at Nebraska
23 Iowa State
6 at Kansas St.
13 Oklahoma State
20 Florida Atlantic
25 Texas A&M
An edge-rushing demon, Acho had more sacks than any Longhorn in '09 (10), including Sergio Kindle, now with the Ravens.
Thrown into the BCS title game last January, this strong-armed five-star recruit officially takes over for Colt McCoy.
Williams is the best playmaker (and a likely high NFL pick) in a loaded Texas secondary.
DARREN CARROLL (NEWTON)
With the quarterback under center more, Newton and the other running backs should rack up more yards.
JAMES D. SMITH/ICON SMI