Johnson gives Texas another option at running back

BY foxsports • November 8, 2009

It's when he bounces that squat little body to the outside for touchdowns that he gives the Longhorns an extra dimension in their late-season march toward the goals of winning Big 12 and national championships.

Johnson scored Texas' first two touchdowns Saturday in a 35-3 win over Central Florida, a team that ranks among fourth in the NCAA against the run.

Texas is 9-0 for just the ninth time in 117 years of playing football and the first since 2005 when the Longhorns went 13-0 and won the national championship.

Johnson's first touchdown Saturday was a 20-yard burst up the middle when the offensive line opened a huge hole. The second came on a third-and-1 from the Central Florida 13. Texas sent in its "jumbo" package with 300-pound defensive tackle Lamarr Houston at fullback.

Johnson leaned his 5-foot-11, 250-pound body into the left side of the line, then used a quick burst of speed to the outside to beat two defenders to the corner and scamper to the goal line.

Pretty sharp for a guy whose early season carries were limited in part because he wasn't in the best of shape in training camp.

"I'm getting more opportunities right now," Johnson said. "Right now, I'm trying to settle down and learn new stuff and keep dropping weight."

Johnson's 44 total yards wouldn't turn heads on a day Texas passed for 470. What Texas needs him to do is keep pounding out the first downs, the touchdowns and hold onto the ball.

"The first time we've seen him bounce outside and walk in," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "At the end of the game he carried a bunch of (defenders) with him. He was carrying about five there at the end I saw him wrap his off hand over the ball to make sure they couldn't strip it out."

Johnson is the latest standout in Texas' tailback-by-committee approach.

Vondrell McGee, who leads Texas with 275 yards, and Tre' Newton were the early standouts but have dropped off. Fozzy Whittaker started the last three games.

Johnson, meanwhile, just keeps finding the end zone when he gets the ball

After leading Texas rushers with 12 touchdowns last season, he has nine in 2009. Most have come from short-yardage situations and the 20-yarder against Central Florida was his longest this season. He has six games with two or more TDs.

Make no mistake. Texas is not looking to start grinding out yards on the ground. The Longhorns are a pass-first team that uses the running game to keep defenses honest and to bull out tough yards. Success on the ground complements Colt McCoy's passing but won't replace it.

Brown has said he wants three things out of his running game: 4 yards a carry, a first down or a touchdown. Johnson usually delivers.

Against Central Florida, Johnson averaged 4.4 yards. After his two touchdown runs, he ran for 5 yards on fourth-and-1 and nearly broke out for another score. The play set up McCoy's touchdown pass to James Kirkendoll for a 21-3 lead in the third quarter.

Later, Johnson caught a 14-yard pass on Texas' final scoring drive that Whittaker finished with a 6-yard touchdown run.

"I think whoever is in is going to do their job," Johnson said. "I'm just fortunate to be the one that they picked to handle the position right now with Fozzy."