Texas offensive woes start with absent run game

Texas coach Tom Herman stands on the sideline during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Los Angeles. USC won 27-24 in overtime. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Tom Herman shed no tears after losing in overtime to Southern California. His emotional outlets, he says, were a couple of ”primal screams” once the team got home.

There may be a more of those echoing around Austin as Herman and his staff try to rebuild a running game behind an offensive line struggling with injuries.

In their two losses, the Longhorns are averaging 83 yards on the ground and just 2.5 yards per carry. In both of those games, Texas (1-2) hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first half.

”We’ve got to figure out what we are doing on offense,” Herman said Monday. ”That problem needs to get fixed this week and next. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how we are going to run better.”

Puzzling to some has been Texas’ reluctance to use junior tailback Chris Warren III , a 250-pound battering ram who averages nearly 6.6 yards per carry over his career and ran for 166 yards in a win over San Jose State. In losses to Maryland and USC, Warren got just 10 carries for 46 yards.

Herman was asked why Warren didn’t get the ball more often against the Trojans. Against Maryland, an early 27-7 deficit forced Texas to abandon its running game, but the Longhorns never trailed USC by more than seven. Warren carried the ball just once in the second half against USC and caught one pass for 11 yards in the fourth quarter.

Herman noted that Warren averaged only 3.8 yards on his four carries against USC. By that measure, Warren would have scored from the USC 3-yard line in overtime. Instead, the play call had freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger try to power his way in over left tackle and his fumble set up the Trojans’ winning field goal . Texas’ first drive of the game was stopped on 4th-and-2 when, instead of testing USC’s strength with Warren, Ehlinger was dropped for a 3-yard loss.

”We’ve got to find a way to get (Warren) more yards, but in the middle of a game when you see how that is shaking out, the definition of insanity is repeatedly performing the same act and expecting different results. To keep going back to 3.8 yards per carry, I think there would be some criticism there, too. `Tom, why did you give Chris Warren the ball 20 times if he only had 70 yards?”’ Herman said.

Herman noted Ehlinger had made a 9-yard run the play before the fumble, which was nearly twice as long as any carry by Warren and tailback Kyle Porter the entire game.

Herman said he’s been happy with the play-calling of offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

”Can we get better? Sure,” Herman said. ”There’s nothing to tell me that we can’t or won’t.”

The biggest problem facing the offense is simply keeping players healthy. Ehlinger, a true freshman, has started the last two games because of a shoulder injury to regular starter Shane Buechele. If Buechele is healthy, Herman said he’ll return to his No. 1 spot in practice. Texas next plays at Iowa State on Sept. 28.

Of bigger concern is the offensive line, where starters and key backups keep dropping. Left tackle and offensive captain Connor Williams needs surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and sprained ligaments against USC. Whether he can return this season is unknown.

Herman said he is down to five total healthy offensive linemen he’d feel comfortable putting in a game. Even if Warren gets the ball more, he may not have anywhere to run. And keeping the quarterbacks healthy will be paramount. The Longhorns gave up five sacks to the Trojans.

”Desperation level is at an all-time high” with the offensive line, Herman said.

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