The Texas Longhorns' depth took a major hit when standout running back Johnathan Gray left the game against West Virginia with a torn Achilles tendon. Gray underwent surgery Wednesday and will miss the remainder of the season.
Gray is arguably one of the most explosive players on the Texas offense. In most instances, this type of injury could be devastating to a team's season. But that might not be the case.
The running back position is perhaps the deepest position for the Longhorns. Juniors Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron have the strength, agility and talent to help alleviate the drop-off from Gray's season-ending injury. But Brown and Bergeron may not be the only backs implemented in Saturday's game plan.
Here's a look at what to expect from the Texas run game against Oklahoma State.
First-string: No. 28 Malcolm Brown
Brown started to look like a talent of the Longhorns' past in the first five games of the season, carrying the ball just 23 times for 69 yards. But he ran his way into the clear No. 2 role in Texas' game against Oklahoma, when he rushed for 120 yards on 23 attempts.
"Malcolm (Brown) is a pounding back that needs to get the ball a lot," head coach Mack Brown has said. "He may not make a yard here, and then all of the sudden he's gonna make eight or 12 yards. We are really proud of Malcolm."
Since October 12, Brown has gained 379 yards on 88 carries and has scored seven of his eight total touchdowns as the No. 2 man. Gray's injury has moved Brown up the depth chart into the starting role.
Keep an eye on No. 28, as he will be a key contributor for the Texas offense in the coming weeks.
Second-string: No. 24 Joe Bergeron
Bergeron led the running backs with 16 touchdowns in 2012, but has not seen much playing time this season. Bergeron's red-zone fumbling issues against Iowa State and Oklahoma caused him to be moved down the depth chart.
"After the couple of fumbles, and not getting as many touches at running back, he (Bergeron) has taken all of that energy and has played on every special team now," Mack Brown said. "He has channeled all of his energy into things that will help our team instead of laying around, griping and being negative."
Bergeron fought his way back into the mix by showing perseverance in special teams and scoring a touchdown to give Texas its first lead of the game against West Virginia last Saturday. People look at Bergeron as a short-yardage back—and sometimes mistake him for a fullback—but he has shown the ability to be more than just a goal-line guy.
The Brown-Bergeron combo should see significant playing time Saturday, but do not be surprised to see another back sprinkled into the run game and taking over Bergeron's special team duties.
Third-string: No. 3 Jalen Overstreet
Redshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet made the move from quarterback to running back in the summer, but be has been buried in the running back depth chart. That could likely change Saturday.
"Jalen Overstreet is going to have to pick up some of the slack for Joe Bergeron on special teams," Mack Brown said Monday, via Texassports.com. "And Jalen is also going to have to get ready to play at tailback again."
Overstreet's skills have not been seen this season, but one thing is for sure: The 6'2", 215-pound athlete is not lacking in the talent department.
What to expect
It isn't easy to evenly divide the carries between three talented players, but Major Applewhite has constantly stressed the importance of getting the ball into his playmakers' hands. And he plans to give the ball to the guy with the hot hand Saturday.
"The carries and the rotation—except for certain situations, whether it's a special play or a third down situation—is kind of handled by how they (Brown and Bergeron) are playing and how they're taking care of the ball," Applewhite said Tuesday, via Texassports.com. "Both of those guys will play a whole bunch obviously."
Applewhite seemingly expects Brown and Bergeron to carry the bulk of the load, but Overstreet and wide receiver Daje Johnson will also get some touches out of the back field.
"They'll both play there," Applewhite said of Overstreet and Johnson Tuesday, via Texassports.com. "Both of them will get some snaps. We'll make sure that we have four. Obviously, there are some different things that different guys can do but they'll both play at that spot."
The running backs will be required to carry the Texas offense against Oklahoma State's stout defense, regardless of who receives the bulk of the carries. Quite frankly, the Longhorns' Big 12 title hopes could be in the hands of the Texas running backs for the remaining three games of the season.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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