Chris Hall: Getting centered
For the second consecutive week, the Texas Longhorns used the running game to key a dramatic fourth quarter comeback victory. However, this time it took some familiar faces playing some new roles to help lead the way to a 38-35 victory over Oklahoma State.
Behind the offensive line, Texas rushed for over 300 yards for the second straight week, and RB Jamaal Charles ran for 180 yards on 16 carries (11.2 ypc), including TD runs of 22, 75 and 18 yards with the last two keying a fourth quarter rally from a 21-point deficit. The comeback was tied for the second largest in UT history.
Nothing came easy for Texas, but the team continued to show its resiliency in finding a way to win, especially along the offensive line, which cleared the way for 311 total yards in the fourth quarter with 166 coming on the ground despite missing its starting center.
After losing senior C Dallas Griffin to injury in the first quarter, versatile sophomore Chris Hall moved over from guard and stepped in as the signal caller for the remaining three-plus quarters.
While McWhorter requires all of his linemen to learn the assignments off all five positions along the offensive line, it is a unique ability to be able to switch back and forth like Hall, who has now played all five spots at some point during the season.
"He's the only guy in the offensive line room that can legitimately step up and play any position, so when I went down, I knew the team was in good hands with him," said Griffin. "I think mentally it's probably tough for most people, but Chris is one of the few guys that can step in and handle that no questions asked."
The center position, which McWhorter calls "the quarterback of the offensive line," holds the responsibility of making sure the entire line is in the correct blocking scheme for each play, whether it be pass or run, providing an additional challenge for anyone making a quick switch to that position.
"For Chris to come in and know his job, know the ID's, know his responsibility and get the rest of the offensive line where they need to be is important," said QB Colt McCoy. "For him to do that like he did, it shows a lot about him and the teammate he is and the player he is."
Hall was quick to credit both Griffin and McWhorter for his ability to step in and lead the offensive line.
"I'm really thankful that Coach McWhorter has allowed me to play some in that role," Hall said. "Also, being behind Dallas, he's helped me tremendously at playing center, which was something I hadn't done until this season. It was interesting, it was fun, and I'm just thankful I've got guys like Dallas Griffin and Coach McWhorter around me."
However, Hall was not the only player on the offensive line to step up Saturday, as true freshman Michael Huey came through with one of the best games of his young career in seeing additional time at guard following Hall's move to center.
"Michael Huey has done a fantastic job," said Hall. "Just as a freshman him coming in, he is one of the most gifted, polished and talented offensive linemen I've seen. I wasn't on his level when I was a true freshman. He came in early and he went to work right away. He's really stepped in great for us."
McWhorter has also been pleased with Huey's progression.
"He's gotten better and better and better every week," McWhorter added. "He is the one of that freshman group that's a little further ahead than the rest of them. He went through spring practice last year and he's playing well right now."
With two consecutive 300-yard rushing performances under its belt, the offensive line is showing its improvement and building the chemistry needed for the stretch run of the season. While the personnel might change, the effort will always be consistent.