Tweaking the Offense

Coming out of the Iowa State game, the Longhorns were still largely operating an offense designed for original starting quarterback David Ash. But with Ash's injury, the Longhorns have made some changes that have helped out new starter Case McCoy.

1) Heavy reliance on the run

Case McCoy has thrown the ball just 40 times over the last two games, a huge difference from the Iowa State game where McCoy aired it out 45 times. And those extra plays have most certainly gone to the running game. Against Oklahoma, Texas ran the ball on 73.2 percent of its 82 plays (22 passes, 21 for McCoy). Versus TCU, that number was … 73.2 percent (52 of 71 plays were runs).

A lot of teams talk about wanting to be 50-50, and Texas certainly hasn't been that of late. In the first five games, Texas averaged 37.8 passing attempts per game, with a low of 30. In the last two, Texas has averaged 20.5 passing attempts per game with a high of 22. The running game hasn't always been explosive — though some of that certainly relates to the fact that the Longhorns have been playing good defenses — but averaging 221 rushing yards per game will help out any passer.

It isn't hard to figure out how, or even why, the Longhorns made the switch. With David Ash's arm strength, the screen game and quick throws were a big part of what Texas wanted to do to stretch teams horizontally to create vertical seams. The issue with McCoy is that when he made those same throws, the difference in arm strength allowed defenders more time to come up and make a play. That brings us to No. 2.


2) Fewer spread-to-throw (short-to-intermediate) formations

Note: this isn't fewer spread formations overall … Texas spread the whole field often against TCU, and took some deep shots out of those formations. But the days when Texas spread the field to pepper the defense with deep outs, or with the quick hitches that you saw against Iowa State, appear to be over.

Instead, Texas has become a shot play team in the passing game. After averaging 9.4 yards per completion against Iowa State, McCoy averaged 14.6 yards per completion against Oklahoma. Texas used more compact sets against the Sooners, forcing a less-physical Oklahoma team to brawl in close quarters and neutralizing the Sooners' defensive speed. But those compact formations also eliminated those long throws to the boundary for McCoy and stopped asking him to throw a four-yard pass the width of the field with enough time to give his receivers a chance to

Texas did spread things back out more against TCU, but for a different reason: Texas wanted to spread-to-run and try to eliminate the Horned Frogs' usual tendency of packing the box to eliminate opposing running games. The spread formations also had another advantage: while McCoy didn't throw the long short and intermediate passes to the sidelines, the spread did allow Texas to attack TCU's man coverage, putting the Longhorns' speed on the outside in one-on-one situations. The result was that McCoy averaged an absurd 25.3 yards per completion. And McCoy was actually fairly accurate despite that distance, hitting on 9-of-16 throws before faltering down the stretch on his last three. In case you're wondering, on those 16 throws, McCoy averaged a ridiculous 14.25 yards per ATTEMPT.

So Texas did utilize some of its spread sets against TCU. But the Longhorns stayed away from the short and horizontal passing game while doing so.


3) Difference in tempo

The goal at the start of the year was to out-race opponents and put tremendous pressure on their defenses by going with an up-tempo attack. While Texas still does that in spurts, it's safe to say that the Longhorns have been much more judicious with their usage of tempo in recent weeks.

Texas has still gotten 76.5 snaps the past two weeks, but the Longhorns have achieved that more through ball-control than snapping the ball every 20 seconds. Texas held the ball for 35:15 against Oklahoma and 33:59 against TCU. That means that Texas snapped the ball once every 25.80 seconds against the Sooners, and every 28.71 seconds against the Horned Frogs. Some of that was skewed by Texas salting away the game late. But at the same time, Texas snapped the ball every 25.38 seconds in the first three quarters against TCU, a mark that is not only below the Big 12 average, but also significantly below the Longhorns' early season pace.

For reference, with Ash under center, Texas averaged 20.2 seconds per play, and heading into last week's games, the Big 12 average was 23.80. So that's a pretty healthy difference between Ash, whose offense was among the fastest in the league, and that run by his successor. Texas still feels comfortable going up-tempo at times with McCoy — the Longhorns got at least one first down off the top of my head by hurrying to the line against Oklahoma — but it isn't as much an every-down thing.


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