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March 1, 2010

Texas must improve its ground game

In an effort to spice up its offense, Texas' coaching staff met recently with Boise State's staff.

"I want to have more fun," Longhorns coach Mack Brown told reporters.

Forget fun -- Texas needs to be more of a smash-mouth team. The Longhorns opened spring practice Friday, and the No. 1 priority better be improving the rushing offense.

Texas was mediocre running the ball this past season -- it was 61st in the nation in rushing offense -- but it didn't matter because Colt McCoy was running the offense. McCoy was a savvy quarterback who could handle having to carry the offense. But McCoy is gone, and there's no way Texas coaches can put the same burden on new starter Garrett Gilbert.

Gilbert, who will be a sophomore this fall, has talent and played admirably when pressed into duty in the national title game after McCoy suffered a shoulder injury. But there's no way a first-year starting quarterback can carry an offense.

Texas was 35th in the nation in rushing in 2008, but McCoy was the leading rusher because no feature back stepped up. That's where the running backs -- and a revamped offensive line -- come in this spring.

Texas will have three new starters on the line. But while the guys who were seniors were solid players, there certainly was no irreplaceable lineman among the bunch.

As for the running backs, the Longhorns return their top four from last season in Tre Newton, short-yardage specialist Cody Johnson, Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whittaker. Redshirt freshman Chris Whaley, who was overweight last season, also will be in the mix.

Texas needs to come out of spring drills with a much tougher line and a feature back. If that doesn't happen, a team that played for the national title last season won't even win its division this season.

And let's get back to the meeting that Texas coaches had with the Boise State coaches. Brown told reporters "it's hard to have trick plays with the spread offense. Chris Petersen and Boise have done the best job with it. I want us to have more innovations."

Hard to have trick plays out of the spread? Huh?

Grid bits

Last week, we mentioned new USC assistant Clay Helton, whose new job with the Trojans is his third in three months. Well, the same goes for a guy who replaced him at one of those jobs. See if you can follow. Hugh Freeze had spent the past two seasons as head coach at Lambuth University, a NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. He interviewed for the Arkansas State offensive coordinator position in December, but it went to Helton. Freeze then took the offensive coordinator job at San Jose State under new Spartans coach Mike MacIntyre. Helton, though, recently left Arkansas State to go to USC. With the Arkansas State position open again, Red Wolves coach Steve Roberts offered it to Freeze, who took it and cited a desire to move closer to his former home, in Memphis, as one of the reasons. Before his stint at Lambuth, Freeze had been an assistant at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron (now, of course, at USC) and developed a reputation as a solid recruiter. Freeze was the coach at Memphis' Briarcrest Christian, where his top player was Michael Oher, when he was hired by Orgeron. Freeze's replacement at Lambuth, by the way, is Ron Dickerson, the former head coach at Temple.

Oregon State starting linebacker David Pa'aluhi has decided to withdraw from school and join a branch of the military. Pa'aluhi, a junior-to-be from Waianae, Hawaii, started all 13 games last season and finished second on the team with 77 tackles to earn honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Pa'aluhi is married and has a young daughter. "We fully support David's decision," Beavers coach Mike Riley said in a statement. "He's a terrific young man with a great future, and all of us in the Beaver football program thank him for his contributions and wish him the very best." Pa'aluhi's dad operates a mixed martial arts training center in Waianae and David has competed in some MMA bouts.

Oregon State and TCU are scheduled to play in the season opener, and it appears the game will be at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, instead of on the TCU campus.

Good news for Utah in that running back Matt Asiata was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. Asiata suffered a knee injury in Game 4 and missed the rest of the '09 season; he has missed 20 games in the past three seasons because of injuries. Asiata still is rehabbing from the knee injury and will miss spring drills, but if he's healthy in the fall, he and 1,000-yard rusher Eddie Wide will provide a solid duo at running back. Utah will need all the offense it can get because the defensive has some issues.

Former UCF backup defensive tackle Michael Lynche is one of the 20 finalists on "American Idol." Lynche, known as "Big Mike" on "Idol," played at UCF in 2001 and '02. His brother, Marque Lynche Jr., was an "Idol" semifinalist in 2004.

A week before John Brantley first hits the spring practice field as Florida's starting quarterback, his dad will have surgery for prostate cancer. John Brantley III, himself a former quarterback at Florida, recently was diagnosed with the cancer. His dad, John Jr., is recovering from throat cancer. Brantley told reporters last week that though family members have told him to focus on football and replacing Tim Tebow, it was hard for him not to worry about his family's medical issues. One of his uncles, Scot Brantley, a former linebacker at Florida and in the NFL, had heart surgery last summer after suffering two strokes.

Give it up for New York Giants center Shaun O'Hara, who has donated $100,000 to Rutgers, his alma mater, to fund a program that that will give a scholarship to a deserving walk-on.

Former longtime NFL safety Sammy Knight was hired as the defensive graduate assistant at USC, his alma mater. It's a safe bet Knight will be spending a lot of time with the Trojans' defensive backs.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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