HD Analysis: Is UT running the right offense?

We are a quarter of the way through the season, and it's been a bumpy ride. But here are my grades for the offense so far:

QUARTERBACK


GRADE: B -


BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: Tyrone Swoopes


BREAKING IT DOWN: The knock on Swoopes coming into the season was that he didn’t digest things quickly enough, held the ball too long and was inaccurate on short and intermediate range throws.

Forget all that. Swoopes just needed a little confidence.


He has shown a live arm, and, as his confidence has grown, he’s shown the ability to step into his throws with great accuracy, hitting receivers in stride even better, on average, than David Ash did in Week 1 vs UNT.


When the coaches added pre-snap motion, play-action and passes in the middle of the field against UCLA, Swoopes handled it all in stride, finishing 24 of 34 passing for 196 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs.


He held the ball too long on a couple throws, but, for the most part, he got the ball out on time and on target. He still needs to throw the ball away rather than take a loss when he’s behind the line and headed out of bounds. But he’s not taking delay penalties, and he’s got a calm demeanor in the huddle.


Swoopes’ confidence grew despite a 41-7 loss to BYU. That was an enormous positive for Texas. He wasn’t shell-shocked at all. After the BYU game, Swoopes said he’d give himself a B and said the offense played well.


But he made no mention of how the offense wasn’t able to score until late in the third quarter – not soon enough to help give hope to a defense that held BYU to 6 points in the first half.


Against UCLA, Swoopes took major steps:


1) Converting fourth-and-8 and overcoming second-and-21 and second-and-12 on UT’s first-half TD drive;


2) Executing an up-tempo attack on an 80-yard TD drive in the second half;


3) Completing his first 11 passes of the game;


4) No turnovers;


5) Running for 10 yards on second-and-goal from the 12 to give Texas a manageable third-and-goal from the 2 (allowing for play-action to work on a TD pass to TE MJ McFarland.


BOTTOM LINE: The Swoopes’ arrow is trending up. After the UCLA game he was asked how he played, and he said pretty well, but it didn’t matter because the team didn’t win. That’s the kind of edge Swoopes needs – anything less than victory is unacceptable.


TD drives need to become commonplace. And Shawn Watson needs to put it all on Swoopes’ plate. This kid can clearly digest it.


“I have to trust his preparation,” Watson said after the UCLA game. “Because he’s getting it and playing at a high-level.”


With an arm like that, the ability to run and this bye week, Shawn Watson should be able to help Swoopes take the next few steps in his development. With Baylor and OU looming after Kansas, that will need to happen for UT to have a chance to keep pace with those teams.


 

OFFENSIVE LINE


GRADE: D+


BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: LG Sed Flowers


BREAKING IT DOWN: This is the single biggest problem spot on the football team, and the D grade is not the fault of the current five on the line. It’s the fault of happenstance and hard-headedness.


Happenstance in the form of Dom Espinosa going down with a fractured ankle, and hard-headedness in the actions of Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle leading to their suspensions.


That’s the past.


A new offensive line – one with 15 combined starts – is now under construction.


The left side of the line didn’t embarrass itself against UCLA, and that’s saying a lot because LT Marcus Hutchins started the season on the defensive line and is learning a difficult position on the fly.


Hutchins was a little better run-blocking against UCLA than against BYU, and he gets up, out of his stance in pass-blocking pretty well and has the feet to drop-step against a speed rusher.


Sed Flowers played pretty well against UCLA and is now the veteran leader of the group … with four career starts.


Jake Raulerson has good plays and bad plays and is suffering the growing pains of being an undersized center. Raulerson got pushed around and gave up the first sack of Swoopes in the UCLA game. That’s going to happen. Snapping the ball and maintaining leverage against bigger DTs takes rep after rep of experience.


Taylor Doyle did a nice job pulling on a counter play that allowed Malcolm Brown to pick up a third-and-1 in the first half against UCLA. He and Perkins need to work better together in pass protection, especially when the defense uses twists and stunts to confuse them.


Perkins is a guard and a good one. I think Perkins is the best O-lineman Texas has. But he's playing out of position. He could be an All-Big 12 guard. But he struggles at tackle to get up out of his stance and drop-step against a speed rusher. Perkins had a really hard time against UCLA, giving up a sack and getting called for holding.


BOTTOM LINE: Even if Texas gets Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle back at some point, those two will need some practice reps considering they are not practicing with the team currently.


Until then, the current group of starters just need to work together more and more and communicate so defenses don’t confuse them with basic twists and stunts.


This is still the biggest problem area on the team, but it showed a lot of improvement from BYU to UCLA. There should be a lot of improvement during the bye week.


 

RUNNING BACK


GRADE: C-


BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: Malcolm Brown


BREAKING IT DOWN: Again, the grade is not all the running backs’ fault. The line they’re running behind has construction cones around it.


Brown did a better job of making something out of nothing in the UCLA game than Johnathan Gray did.

Brown got more of the counter plays (when a lineman pulls to help clear a gap for the back) called when he was in the game - and made good yardage on those plays. Gray didn't get as many counter plays called when he was in the game.


The counter was good to Texas against UCLA and needs to become a staple play, because the Horns can also fake the counter and build other running plays off of it.


BOTTOM LINE: Both these backs are being asked to do a lot with a little. Brown seems to be on a mission as a senior, and the coaches seemed to reward him with two straight possessions to start the UCLA game before rotating Gray into the game.


That rotation could become tricky if one has a hot hand the way Brown did to start the UCLA game. But Brown and Gray both respect each other tremendously. Shawn Watson made sure to let reporters know that RB coach Tommie Robinson is the one that decides the rotation during games.


Brown or Gray needs to crack 100 yards rushing in a game soon. Hasn’t happened yet.


 

RECEIVER


GRADE: C-


BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: John Harris


BREAKING IT DOWN: This group has to make more big plays, and the coaches have to help them with that.


Harris has been good but inconsistent. He can be a good blocker and has obviously made some clutch catches, such as his 33-yard grab on fourth-and-8 on a TD drive vs UCLA. But Harris has been inconsistent, too, with some drops.


Jaxon Shipley has been a good safety valve and always seems to come up with the goods when he has to.

And we finally saw Marcus Johnson enter the game plan on passes thrown toward the middle of the field.


BOTTOM LINE: The coaches have to continue to get Tyrone Swoopes and his receivers connecting on routes with the potential for run after the catch (quick slants, etc). Otherwise it will be too hard for this offense to drive down the field.


Texas’ receivers already lack elite speed. You fail to give them routes with run after the catch opportunity, and the passing game becomes incredibly conservative.


I’d still like to see more Jacorey Warrick, Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe … and … perhaps … at some point … Daje Johnson. All four of those receivers might be able to provide some bigger plays. We know Daje can take the top off a defense.


But what about Foreman as a playmaker? He’s got speed and strength and might be able to break a tackle or two. Looking forward to seeing what Warrick, Foreman, Joe all four can do in a game. They need reps before the Baylor and OU games, so they’re not completely green on a big stage.


It’s painfully obvious how Texas lacks breakaway speed on offense. That void shows up more at the receiver position than anywhere else. Speed on the perimeter has to be a priority on the recruiting trail.  

 


TIGHT END


GRADE: C+


BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: Geoff Swaim


BREAKING IT DOWN: Geoff Swaim is doing what’s asked of him, and right now, that’s a lot of blocking. He did a great job of being an H-back leading Malcolm Brown through the hole on Brown’s 22-yard run vs UCLA.


Swaim has been incredibly selfless. If Texas didn’t have so many holes on the offensive line, Swaim would undoubtedly be catching more footballs. But right now, he’s needed to help that offensive line as an extra blocker in the run game and pass protection.


MJ McFarland had a nice TD catch vs UCLA. He’s a big target, and Swoopes lofted a perfect pass to him in the end zone.


BOTTOM LINE:  There is great news to report – Greg Daniels is recovered from his arthroscopic knee surgery and is back practicing with the team. Now it’s just a matter of time before he sees the field – either against Kansas or Baylor.


With Daniels back, Texas picks up a solid blocker who can really help a fledgling offensive line in both the running game and pass protection. Daniels’ return should be a big development for the offense.


COACHING

GRADE: C-

BREAKING IT DOWN: The injuries and suspensions on the offense have made the coaches' job more difficult, because players have had to be developed on the job. 

BOTTOM LINE: Finding the balance of what this offense can handle under those circumstances is why these coaches get paid the big bucks.

Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline have to figure out if this offense has the talent and experience right now to be a run-first, play-action pass offense with a short, controlled, West Coast passing game.

Or should this offense trend more toward the one Wickline helped operate at Oklahoma State the past nine years - throwing the ball to set up the run with more spread principles while still maintaining balance?

If Charlie Strong discovers in upcoming games against Baylor and OU that his pro-style offense can't keep pace, it will be time to turn to Wickline and say, "Let's run the Oklahoma State offense."

My personal belief is the ONLY way Texas is going to be able to move the ball and score with any consistency until it gets better players up front and more speed on the perimeter will be to go spread and up-tempo - a la Oklahoma State - and throw to set up the run.  

Oklahoma has shown you can spread it out and throw to set up the run AND be multiple enough to go two-tights, two-backs and pound people while still playing great defense.

Something tells me trying to bring the Louisville pro-style attack to Texas right now is a bit like bringing a popsicle stick to a gun fight.


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