Freshman tailback Johnathan Gray gave the Texas Longhorns a much-needed boost in Saturday's win at Oklahoma State.
When starter Malcolm Brown was forced out of the game in the first quarter due to a left ankle sprain, Gray assumed a larger role with the offense and responded with a team-high 68 rushing yards on 12 carries (both career-highs).
The former Aledo High School star did most of his damage in the fourth quarter during a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive that gave Texas a 34-33 lead with 5:38 left. On that drive, Gray carried five times for 45 yards, including four straight rushes for 30 yards to set up Joe Bergeron's go-ahead touchdown run from a yard out.
"That saved us," said UT head coach Mack Brown.
Gray had just 21 carries for 89 yards entering the game. Coach Brown said the rookie displayed confidence, poise and toughness in a tough environment on the road.
"It's the first time this year that I've seen him run with the confidence and the patience that he did in high school," Brown said. "It was really exciting to watch him."
The majority of Gray's carries came on direct snaps out of the "Wild" formation. The formation was a strength for Texas last season when Fozzy Whittaker executed it to near perfection as a senior. UT has used several different skill players in the formation this year, but it appears Gray is the best fit.
"He's handling the wild formation like a 5-year senior," Coach Brown said. "He's handling it like Fozzy did [last year] and we didn't know that in preseason. We just weren't sure who the guy was or what he was. And it's him, it's him all over the place."
So what makes Gray a good fit in the Wild formation?
"He's explosive and powerful and he's got the ability when that hole opens up to take it [for a touchdown]," said offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "He's just got a gear to him that if they want to bring a linebacker and go 1-on-1, he can shave that guy and get two-plus yards. And if we get it blocked correctly and he's on a safety, he can get in space and make a guy miss."
The Longhorns had all ready planned to get Gray more involved on offense heading into the OSU game. But after his strong performance, Gray is likely to see the ball more as the season progresses.
"He showed me that he is prepared to go in and play," Harsin said. "As the game went on he started to heat up and get better and better. When you get your opportunity and make it count, you will earn more opportunities."
By Austin Laymance/Special to the Star-Telegram