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05 DEC 2015: Texas Longhorns running back Chris Warren III (25) steps out of bounds as the Baylor Bears defense zeros in on him during the game between the Baylor Bears and the Texas Longhorns at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. Texas beats Baylor 23-17. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

Texas’ running back tandem will be Big 12’s best

(Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

Big 12 quarterbacks such as Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, and Baylor’s Seth Russell are among the best gunslingers in college football. However, even though the conference is known for its eye-popping, jaw-dropping quarterback play, it does feature some of the best running back duos in the nation.

Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine-Joe Mixon duo and Baylor’s Shock Linwood-Johnny Jefferson tag team are regarded as two of the best running back tandems in the country. At the end of the year, they may not even be the best in the Big 12.

The Texas duo of sophomores D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren could become the conference’s best running back tandem.

Foreman and Warren are punishing runners, hence their nickname, “The Smash Brothers.”

The two are similarly built. Foreman stands at 6-foot and 238 pounds and Warren is 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds. That is 493 combined pounds coming out of the backfield for the Longhorns. The tandem outweighs Perine and Mixon by 32 pounds (461) and Linwood and Jefferson by more than 80 (405).

Foreman and Warren have the size to power through the tackles, then simply out-muscle would-be tacklers in the second level.

What truly makes the “Smash Brothers” so good, however, is that they can also be the “Flash Brothers” as needed, showing off deceptive speed for players their sizes.

Last year, Foreman averaged 7.2 yards per carry while Warren averaged 6.6 yards per attempt. Those numbers were good for second and fifth, respectively, in the Big 12. According to Pro Football Focus College, Foreman and Warren were the top two running backs in the Big 12 based on breakaway percentage, a measurement of long runs.

Some of the Smash Brothers’ greatest, long runs included Foreman’s 81-yard sprint to seal Texas’s win over rival Oklahoma, and Warren’s iconic 91-yard run — featuring seven broken tackles — against Texas Tech.

Individual credentials aside, the two don’t get enough hype compared to Big 12 counterparts for two reasons: Texas’s lack of team success, and a shortage of quality opportunities due to the offense’s undeveloped identity.

Look at the teams around Perine-Mixon or Linwood-Jefferson. Their respective squads are competing for Big 12 titles and College Football Playoff spots. Meanwhile, Foreman and Warren are playing for a Texas program that has fallen well below the Longhorn standard for nearly seven years.

No matter how talented either might be, and regardless of their statistics, they won’t get the credit they deserve playing for a losing team, which Texas has been in each of Charlie Strong’s first years as head coach.

For Foreman and Warren to get the recognition they both rightfully deserve, the Longhorns need to return to their winning ways in 2016.

Last season, Texas struggled to find its offensive identity early in the year, trying to create a balanced approach with an effective passing game to complement the run.

Once Texas figured out the passing offense wasn’t good enough to effectively win games, the talented running backs got a heavier workload.

When Foreman and Warren were presented opportunities for more touches, they shined.

Against TCU, Foreman hit the 100-yard mark for the first time. The floodgate opened from there. He recorded 100 or more yards in four out of Texas’s next six contests. When Foreman was forced to miss the Longhorns’ last two games, that opened the door for Warren to show his stuff.

Warren recorded 81.3 percent of his total rushing yards (382 out 470) and his four touchdowns in those two games.

Nevertheless, Texas’s inability to sustain drives against defenses who dared the Longhorns to pass severely limited opportunities for either to run as often as some of their Big 12 rivals.

Foreman averaged 9.2 carries and while Warren averaged 7.1 attempts per game. The running backs who topped 1,000 yards in the conference last season averaged no fewer than 12 carries per game.

Those totals need a bump for the Smash Brothers to prove themselves as the Big 12’s premier running back duo — and for the Longhorns to climb the conference standings.

Changes in other spots of the program should help the running backs in 2016.

One is Shane Buechele, the celebrated, true freshman quarterback Texas is expected to start this season. Buechele could face a steep learning curve as a first-year player, and if that is the case, Foreman and Warren should get more carries. But the talented Buechele should develop into the passer Texas needs to keep defenses honest.

Combine the new quarterback with a new offensive coordinator, Sterlin Gilbert, and a new look should jump-start the once-stagnant Longhorn offense in all phases. That includes the run game. Last season, Gilbert’s offense at Tulsa scored 33 rushing touchdowns — as many as Alabama and Stanford, which featured the Heisman Trophy winner and runner-up at running back.

Last season without such pieces on offense, Warren and Foreman still produced big numbers. Now with a more promising outlook on The Forty Acres, Texas’ running backs should become the best in the Big 12 — if not the country.

Texas’ running back tandem will be Big 12’s best

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