October 5, 2011

Make no mistake, UT freshman Brown will play

Mack Brown won't leave a talented rookie RB on the bench vs. OU.

Once upon a time, in a high-profile matchup at the Cotton Bowl, a college football coach tethered his heralded freshman running back to the sideline because of the player's unpolished skills as a pass blocker.

The running back never got a carry, the coach's team never scored a touchdown and the resulting 14-3 loss drew howls throughout the fan base.

Mack Brown remembers. And he won't let it happen again Saturday.

A decade after Cedric Benson -- the only four-time, 1,000-yard rusher in Texas history -- never touched the ball against Oklahoma in a 14-3 loss during his freshman season (2001), look for freshman tailback Malcolm Brown to tote it early and often when No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) meets No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) in the latest renewal of the Red River Rivalry.

The Longhorns' coach even made light of his gaffe from yesteryear during his weekly news conference.

"Because Cedric Benson sat for one Oklahoma game, people act like I've never played freshmen my whole life. Golly," said Mack Brown, whose team has played 18 freshmen from its 2011 signing class, most of any FBS school, this season. "You get labeled ... and it stays with you. So I quit worrying about labels a long time ago."

What concerns the Texas coach about Saturday's 11 a.m. matchup in the Cotton Bowl is creating enough running lanes for Malcolm Brown and other Longhorns backs. Oklahoma ranks 50th nationally in rushing defense, well below its usual placement, and a successful ground-and-pound approach by Texas would take pressure off the Longhorns' young quarterbacks while keeping the ball away from the Sooners' lethal, up-tempo offense.

"If we can consistently run the ball, then we're OK," said Mack Brown, whose team has averaged 206 rushing yards per game (4.6 per carry) against four unranked opponents with a combined mark of 9-9. That makes the OU game the first true test of the season for a Texas ground game that ranks 25th nationally.

It also shifts the spotlight to Malcolm Brown, a five-star signee from Cibolo Steele who is the team's leading rusher (327 yards, 4.9 per carry) and could emerge as a threat to Benson's freshman rushing record (1,053 yards) by the end of the season.

Malcolm Brown splits time with multiple teammates. But he's carried at least 14 times in every game, including a career-high 22 attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown in a 49-20 victory over UCLA on Sept. 17.

Look for that type of workload Saturday unless the Longhorns are forced into comeback mode because of an early deficit. Mack Brown said his freshman phenom (6-foot, 217 pounds) proved he is a for real factor at the college level against UCLA. Teammates envision nothing but improvement, now that Malcolm Brown has recovered from a hamstring ailment that kept him out of 10 workouts during fall drills.

"Malcolm has really grown up in a hurry," said left guard David Snow, a senior who has more career starts (23) than any Longhorns offensive lineman. "He's brought a lot of great things to the offense, and I can't wait to see how he'll be by the end of the year. I really like it when I get up from my block and see that he's gained 5, 10 or 15 yards. And he does that regularly."

In his lone touchdown run, Malcolm Brown barreled over UCLA safety Tony Dye at the goal line to cap a 16-yard burst. Known for his downhill running style, the powerful freshman has flashed some elusive moves in practice that have caught the attention of Texas safety Blake Gideon.

"He's talented in the open field more than I thought he'd be," Gideon said. "He does have some ability to move his feet and swivel his hips."

But if Texas is to challenge Oklahoma -- much less win -- as a nine-point underdog, conventional wisdom suggests the Longhorns' most heralded freshman tailback since Jamaal Charles (2005) will have to find ample running room between the tackles.

"We're getting a swagger about ourselves," Malcolm Brown said. "Our confidence is that we want to run the ball. The offensive line is dong a great job ... We've got a lot of great athletes. I'm just another freshman trying to come in here and earn a job."

Actually, he's way more than that. And he'll get his chance to prove it Saturday in the Cotton Bowl -- an opportunity that eluded Cedric Benson in his freshman season.

Mack Brown remembers. And he won't repeat his 2001 oversight in 2011.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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