How will Johnathan Gray's game be affected by the switch to the up-tempo offense?
There are plenty of reasons to get excited about the Texas Longhorns' switch to the hurry-up offense in 2013, the impact it will have on the running game being chief among them.
After two years of futility, the Longhorns finally have a solution at quarterback. Junior David Ash is coming off of a season in which he threw for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Now to get the running game on track. After expending considerable resources over the past three years on running backs and offensive linemen to block for them, the 'Horns still lack the consistently dominant ground they have craved.
Fortunately, the return to an up-tempo attack is a step in the right direction. Texas has three running backs and two other all-purpose hybrids capable of taking full advantage of the space this offense creates.
Add in a quarterback who is willing to chip in on the ground as well, and the product will be the most dangerous rushing attack the 'Horns have boasted since 2007.
Even bruiser Joe Bergeron, who has reportedly lost up to 15 pounds, will benefit from the space the hurry-up will create.
The primary impact the up-tempo offense will have on the Longhorn rushing attack will be in the big-play department, no matter who is running the ball.
For all of its talent, last season's Longhorns were only able to average 4.5 yards per carry on the season, which was one-tenth of a yard fewer than their opponents. With former 5-star recruits like Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown in the backfield, that statistic is inexcusable.
A main reason for this inefficiency was that former play-caller Bryan Harsin preferred to take his time and bring in specific personnel for running plays. That is sound when you can physically dominate up front, which Texas could not do, so the backs often found themselves running against eight men in the box.
This is where Major Applewhite's scheme will pay dividends. The pace, lack of substituting and the presence of up to four receivers will all result in more space for the ball-carriers to work.
All of the Texas runners, including leaner power back Joe Bergeron, are at their best when they can get in space and get to the sideline. Fewer men in the box will allow them to find that room, and that should translate to the team getting closer to the six yards a pop that fellow hurry-up team Oregon averaged in 2012.
All-purpose athlete Daje Johnson will see his role increase dramatically in the hurry-up scheme.
A byproduct of Applewhite taking the reins as offensive coordinator will be further usage of Texas' electrifying hybrid athletes. And they will make some heads spin in the up-tempo attack.
In turning Marquise Goodwin loose in the Alamo Bowl, Applewhite showed he wants to put the Longhorns' team speed on full display. He has lost Goodwin as well as all-purpose back D.J. Monroe, but there is still plenty of talent ready to exploit the opportunities this system affords.
The all-purpose athlete who figures to benefit most is Daje Johnson, the team's fastest offensive player. Johnson should see most of his work out of the slot but has the longest rush (84 yards) and highest per-carry average (7.5) of any returning Longhorn. Whether out of the backfield or on speed sweeps, Johnson will definitely be a handful running the ball this season.
Another all-purpose player to watch here is Jalen Overstreet, a converted quarterback. The long-strider has been working out at running back and is the leading candidate to run the WildHorn.
The 'Horns can get each of these players, along with a few others, the ball in several different ways. These types of players thrive in up-tempo systems, as we have seen with guys like De'Anthony Thomas and Tavon Austin.
David Ash's increased freedom to run the ball will be a nightmare for the opposition.
Heading into his junior season, a lot has been made of David Ash's improvement as a passer. However, the biggest difference in his game this season will be his freedom to tuck the ball and run.
Ash had his highest number of carries in a season in Applewhite's debut, and that will not change in 2013. At 6'3" and 223 pounds, he has the size to handle the extra hits and has showcased the speed to break loose on numerous occasions.
Whether he is running by design or simply scrambling when he has nothing downfield, Ash's rushing ability is going to be a headache for opposing defenses. Running quarterbacks always create a mismatch because it is 11-on-11 football. And given his ability to stretch the field with his arm, there will be plenty of opportunities to scramble.
Adding Ash's legs to the already impressive talent in the backfield has the makings of a dominant ground game, especially when the offense is running on fast-forward.
With the hurry-up system in place, expect a big year out of Johnathan Gray.
No player stands to benefit from the shift to an up-tempo scheme more than Johnathan Gray, whose all-around talent will make him the star he was recruited to be.
Gray was certainly impressive in his debut season when he emerged as the starter and led the team with 701 rushing yards. However, his 4.7 YPC was somewhat underwhelming for a player who was heralded as the next great Texas back.
This year, in a system that will give him more room to operate, he has a shot to prove those expectations were warranted. No other player on the roster combines vision, quickness and speed quite like he does, which are all necessary to succeed in this system. He also boasts the best hands of any tailback on the team, so there is no need to take him out on passing downs.
With Gray going back to a system similar to the one he ran during his record-breaking high school career, he is set to explode. Even sharing carries with three to four other players, bet on him becoming the first Longhorn to crack the 1,000-yard mark since 2007.