AUSTIN, Texas -- One key lesson Texas true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele has figured out after his first three starts: Give the running backs the ball and get out of their way.
“They run so hard and it's so fun to watch just seeing them bounce off tackles and stiff-arming people, running over guys,” Buechele said. “It's been a lot of fun to watch.”
The undersized rookie is opening up the Longhorns’ passing attack, but he knows his oversized power backs D'Onta Foreman (6-foot-1, 249 pounds) and Chris Warren III (6-2, 252) must be the focal point of this offense. Few teams in the country have two rushers with the size-speed combo that these two present.
As Texas transitions into Big 12 play, it’s up to those destructive backs to take pressure off Buechele and wear down defenses.
“Like I always say, it starts with the running backs,” Foreman said. “We set the tempo. That's my position, so I feel that way.”
It’s a little hard to believe Texas’ road loss at Cal a week ago was only the first game in which Foreman and Warren both rushed for 100 yards. But Warren dealt with injuries during his freshman campaign in 2015 and his big moment late in the season arrived when Foreman was injured. Foreman missed the second game of this season, too.
But when they’ve been together? They pounded Notre Dame and Cal for a combined 453 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
“It's definitely a starting point for us,” first-year offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said.
The work of Foreman and Warren -- also known as the Smash Brothers, as Foreman’s father started calling them this offseason -- has been especially important in getting the Longhorns started on first down.
Together, they’ve rushed for 348 yards on 56 first-down attempts. When you’re averaging 6.2 yards per carry on first down, you’re making the quarterback’s job a lot easier. And Texas has run the ball on two out of every three first downs this season.
“Coach Gilbert always tells us first downs equals tempo,” Foreman said.
Foreman, a junior, still runs with a chip on his shoulder. He was one of the lowest-rated members of Texas’ 2014 class, a three-star recruit despite a prolific senior season at Texas City High. When they arrived in Austin together, twin brother Armanti Foreman -- a starting receiver for Texas -- got all the hype.
D’Onta broke out last season as the backup to former five-star recruit Johnathan Gray, racking up four 100-yard games and a healthy 7.2 yards per carry average. He still didn’t get much national exposure this offseason, so he’s no less motivated today. Foreman now has rushed for 870 yards on 7.6 per carry over his past eight games.
“I play better when I’m doubted,” he said.
Warren admires Foreman’s explosive speed and can’t believe some of the holes he finds in defenses. How would Warren describe his own style?
“I don't know how to define that,” Warren said. “I would say it's a Chris Warren style. It's like my dad's, definitely. I've seen him play and it's very similar. It's too similar.”
Chris Warren was a three-time Pro Bowl back with the Seattle Seahawks in the 1990s. His son broke onto the scene last season by bouncing off and busting past Texas Tech defenders for 276 yards and four TDs. As a Cal defender learned this season, Warren is perfectly happy to run guys over.
When asked during fall camp how it feels to tackle Warren every day in practice, Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson replied: “I hate Chris Warren.”
“Nobody wants to tackle either one of us,” Foreman said. “But he's bigger than me, so I know they really don't want to tackle him.”
That the Foreman-Warren duo is really just getting started is a scary thought. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is scheming this week to stop the two of them. It’s not quite as simple as loading up the box against them because Texas has a QB who can beat you through the air.
Spencer has seen enough on tape to think that this is the most physical Texas team he has seen in his nine years in Stillwater. And it all starts with those bruising backs.
“They’re two of the strongest running backs our guys will probably face, and they aren’t looking to go down,” Spencer said. “They want to put the shoulder down and go through you.”