Whose Offense is This?

I went into Monday’s press conference determined to get answers to these questions:

1) Who’s in charge of the offense – Charlie Strong or Shawn Watson/Joe Wickline?

2) What would Strong’s ideal offense be?

(Further below I give you my 5 feeble thoughts to jumpstart the Texas offense.)

Strong's answer to Question No. 1:

“That’s their offense. It’s everyone’s offense. It’s not just like it’s Shawn and joe’s and mine. We all sat down. The issue is not what we’re running. It’s the personnel that we have right now.”

In other words, it’s Watson and Wickline’s offense with a lot of direction from Strong. Too much direction, in my opinion.

Strong basically admitted it was his idea to run the ball into 8- and 9-man fronts against Kansas in the third quarter to shape his offense’s toughness (and probably to work on his team’s four-minute offense, when UT will have to run against 8- and 9-man fronts to kill the clock late – see the UCLA game).

That's great to shape toughness, but when you don't get results, you risk confidence loss. And right now is not the time to be risking any kind of confidence loss.

The answer to Question No. 2: (What does the ideal Charlie Strong offense look like?)

“When you look at offense and talk to any coach, the first thing you want to do is establish the run game. You know that if I get the run game going, then I’m always going to have an opportunity. It’s going to enable me to throw the ball.

“Some coaches want to throw the ball to set up the run, or they’ll run the ball to set up the pass. It just depends on what you have and what you’re working with right now.

“I think back last year to when (Bret) Bielema took that (Arkansas) job, and everyone kept saying at Arkansas what he couldn’t do. And now you look at him this year, and they’re rushing the ball. And Boston College is rushing the ball.

So it depends on your players and your personnel.

“We could do what we were doing. But when you lose Espinosa and your starting quarterback in Ash, and Tyrone is playing very well right now for the position he’s been placed in. And we’re going to get better on offense. We’re still just four games into this season.”

So what about where the offense goes from here?

Strong said Monday Texas will be open to spreading things out and throwing to set up the run after running 12 times for 7 yards in the second half of the Kansas game.

“We have to get better and find a way to run the football,” Strong said. “We know there are going to be times when we have to set the run up by throwing the football. And that’s what we’re going to do if that’s the way we’re going to run the ball.”

Strong added, “We can take pressure off that line, because now, just by throwing the football, you can open up the run game by making people defend the pass, if you make big plays in the passing game.”

Strong also said for the first time Monday the offense needs to throw deep to back safeties out of the box.

“We can’t get into a track meet with Baylor,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said in one of the greatest understatements of the college football season. “We can’t match them.”

Strong, however, did announce on Monday that Texas was likely to start throwing the football more to set up the run. This after Texas ran the ball into 8- and 9-man fronts in the second half against Kansas, when Texas carried the ball 6 times for 7 yards in the third quarter and 6 times for 0 yards in the fourth.

The decision to run into a stacked box was a little bit about “establishing that attitude.” But Strong sounded Monday like there’s no time to be stubborn.

“We have to get better and find a way to run the football. We know there are going to be times when we have to set the run up by throwing the football. And that’s what we’re going to do if that’s the way we’re going to run the ball.

“We can take pressure off that line, because now, just by throwing the football, you can open up the run game by making people defend the pass, if you make big plays in the passing game.”

The offense has been all over the place trying to find itself.

1) There was the stripped down, high school basics vs. BYU.

2) There was the addition of the counter, some pre-snap motion with the TEs and some play-action against UCLA.

3) There was the reverse to Armanti Foreman; a couple deep shots; and back to back option plays to the right (for 4 yards), then left (minus-4 yards) vs. Kansas.

About those option plays, in which Swoopes appeared to be running in molasses, I asked Tyrone Swoopes Monday for his time in the 40.

He said it had been a while. So I asked him if he’s a guy who can get the corner on an option play or a guy who should be running QB draw or QB power right up between the tackles.

“I feel like I’m more of a straightforward kind of runner,” Swoopes said. “I probably don’t have the speed to get the corner.”

Right now, the Texas offense looks like there’s too many cooks in the kitchen.

It appears there’s some of Strong (running into 8 and 9-man fronts, “That’s just who we are. You have to establish that attitude.”); maybe some Joe Wickline mixed into the running plays; and Shawn Watson trying to tie it all together as play-caller.

The end result has not only been confusion among the fans about the offense’s identity. Here’s how senior receiver John Harris described UT’s identity on offense when I asked.

“I’m not really sure yet,” said Harris, who has caught a TD pass in every game this season. “We want to be a pound and ground offense, and then we want to throw the ball. I mean it’s hard to describe our offense.

“I would just say we’re a hard-working, blue-collar team and offense – just finding ways to get the job done.”

In other words, Texas has no identity moving the football.

That’s a tough place to be with the video game Bears up on Saturday and an Oklahoma offense averaging 44.8 points per game on deck.

And even with the injuries to David Ash and Dom Espinosa, the dismissals of Kennedy Estelle and Joe Bergeron and suspensions of Desmond Harrison and Daje Johnson, there has to be a plan. There has to be a focus, an emphasis.

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Here’s my 5 feeble attempts at a gameplan and focus to help get the Texas offense going:

#1 … Throw to set up the run. Tyrone Swoopes is a passer, not a runner. He’s more Byron Leftwich than Cam Newton. He’s a passer, so play to his strength.

He’s accurate. Sure he’s not seeing some open receivers. But that should come with reps. He’s accurate. Throw the ball more to set up the run.

#2 … If you are going to continue to pound the football on the ground and be a run-first, play-action pass team, you have to throw the ball deep to back the safeties out of the box.

You are doomed if you run first and play-action with a short, controlled passing game. That allows the defense to play zone and keep everything in front of them with eyes constantly on the QB.

And speaking of going deep, whenever Swoopes breaks the pocket, the deepest receiver out on a route needs to break to the end zone and let Swoopes float a pass downfield. That may end up as UT's best option to go deep.

#3 … Get the ball on the perimeter to Armanti Foreman, not Swoopes on an option play. Throw it to Foreman. Hand it to Foreman. Pitch it to Foreman. Find ways to get it to Foreman!

I asked John Harris to describe Foreman in one word, he said, “Speed.”

Gray said the same thing three weeks ago. Now, everyone has seen that speed on the 29-yard reverse he ran at Kansas.

On an offense starving for speed (especially without Daje Johnson so far), good heavens, get Foreman (speed) the ball! Where has he been?

#4 … Mix in a lot of misdirection to get Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown going – counters, traps, zone blocking in one direction and cutting it back.

Take a break from trying to establish toughness up front by running into 8- and 9- man fronts right through the A or B gaps and make Baylor and Oklahoma use their speed against them by trying to get them to overpursue in the wrong direction.

#5 … Set up blocking for a punt return and see if Jaxon Shipley can create some offense.

We learned from Shipley on Saturday that Charlie Strong had called for “punt block” every time an opponent punted through the first three games.

The first time, Strong called for “punt return,” Shipley returned it for 41 yards to the Kansas 18 and set up UT’s first touchdown.

It’s great to call for a punt block once or twice. But not every time. Allow Jaxon Shipley some chances to create offense in the return game.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Strong needs to learn the lessons of Will Muschamp and other defensive-minded head coaches who have meddled too much with the offense.

If you hired Shawn Watson to call plays, you have to let him and the offensive staff figure it out. If Strong's vision of the offense keeps clouding Watson's vision, there will be no vision.

The players and fans will lose confidence, and the morale of UT fans was already at an all-time low for the past 15 years coming off the end of the Mack Brown era.

The 41-7 loss at home to BYU was a jarring setback to the fans. It took them back to the surprise losses at the end of the Mack era that ultimately caused the fans to check out on him (see OU game outcomes in 2011 and 2012 and BYU in 2013).

Texas fans can probably live with losses, but they can't live with humiliation.

They need to continue to see toughness on defense, but they need to see clear gameplans on offense, even with young players at QB and center, and the inexperience and lack of depth on the O-line.

When Kliff Kingsbury can win 8 games last year with two, true freshmen QBs in and out of the lineup last year, Strong needs to let Watson and Wickline run the offense. He hired 'em to do that job. Let 'em do it.

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