Longhorns offensive play-caller Jay Norvell says that Texas is still trying to find an identity on offense right now.
“There’s a difference between running plays and running and offense,” he said. “We want an offense. So we want plays that run off each other. We want to know the strengths and the weaknesses of those schemes and the adjustments if they give us problems with it. You can’t run everything and know all those answers.”
Norvell said that Texas had about half as many plays in the game plan for Rice as it did for Notre Dame. The reason for that was simple: He wanted his players to not have to overthink and just play.
“Bottom line is we want our players to play with speed and to think quickly,” he said. “We want their unconscious mind. When Jerrod Heard drops back he doesn’t need to be thinking about 20 different things. He needs to be thinking about his primary receiver, his secondary receiver and then running. Period. And probably running needs to move up in that category.”
Norvell was pleased with the improvements his team made on Saturday and is confident there are more improvements on the way.
“We don’t want to be a Jack-of-all-trades offense,” he said. “We want to be known for something. We want to be physical and make them defend the whole field. We want our skill players to threaten people, including our quarterback. If we settle on those things and commit to those things we should see improvement. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us.”
One of the main issues with this team, which Norvell pointed out on Tuesday night, was the fact that there were still a few too many selfish players on the roster. That’s not going to fly with him.
“We still have a bunch of individuals,” he said. “We don’t have a unit yet. We have some guys that need to put their personal feelings aside and sacrifice for the better good.
“We are challenging every guy to do that in the locker room. I must have talked to every single kid in that locker room. For us to be the type of team that we need to be, we need to be unselfish. Good teams are unselfish. They have an environment of unselfishness and we need to embrace that in our locker room and we are not quite there yet.”
Rice ran 96 plays on Saturday to Texas’ 38.
It was just a bizarre game, and one that didn’t give Norvell the opportunities he was hoping for on offense.
“We needed the practice. We needed more plays,” he said. “It was a very unusual game with the turnovers and the punt return. We didn’t get the opportunities that we needed, that we will normally get.”
But Norvell knows that will be different this week.
“We will be playing a team that throws the ball practically on every snap,” he said. “We just watched the Arizona game last year and they 114 snaps in the game against Cal last year. I think we will have a very different game this week. We have to be prepared to take advantage of every series because they can score.”
Chip wrote a story earlier this week quoting Heard’s high school coach John Walsh as saying that the Texas QB was pretty unassuming when the lights are off.
“Jerrod is an interesting kid,” he said. “Some players are different in the game than they are in practice. Some guys you can’t find out about until the game. Jerrod is that way.
“Tyrone [Swoopes] played a lot of football last year. He was just a little more comfortable with the verbiage, the language, all that stuff that really doesn’t matter on Saturdays when you have to make plays. This is not an indictment on Tyrone, it just is what it is.
“Jerrod, his skills don’t really show up until game day. They don’t show up in practice when it’s not live and you can’t tackle. That’s why it was so difficult to evaluate those kids the last few months.”
The thing that Norvell liked the most about Heard’s game was his confidence on in some of his decisions.
“He was extremely decisive,” Norvell said. “The first throws he had in the game, he did not hesitate. The deep balls he threw, his feet were in the ground and he believed in them. You can tell the confidence a quarterback has by the way the ball comes out of his hand. The deep ball he threw to [John] Burt, in his mind he had thrown that 1,000 times.
“I was very pleased with him and he can be a reflection of what we want to do.
When he broke the pocket on the first drive and got that scramble it changed our whole team, everybody, because it gave us a spark.”
For those wondering about DeAndre McNeal, Norvell said there are still high hopes for the talented freshmen and that it’s only a matter of time.
“We played him at tight end, as an H-back, and then he moved back [to receiver], so he just lost a couple of weeks,” he said. “He’s been playing special teams and made some nice plays tonight. We are excited about him. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s a different matchup for people outside. He’ll get his opportunities. I wanted to play him the whole second half but we only had like eight plays in the second half. He’s a different body out there. He’s strong, he’s thick. He’s hard to play man-to-man.”
Texas’ struggles running the football did not go away against Rice. The Longhorns ran the ball 28 times for 149 yards, with Heard netting 96 of those.
“I know all of our backs would like more touches. I’d like to get them more touches,” Norvell said. “We have to do a better job of running the football, No. 1. We were very disappointed in how we ran the ball against Notre Dame. We basically didn’t throw a drop-back pass until that post to Burt in the third quarter. We went into that game trying to run it, and we didn’t. We’d love to get all the backs more touches. Until we run more effectively it’s going to be difficult to do that. We have to find a way to move the sticks and get first downs. We’re going to try to run the ball inside and out.
We are trying to find that mix.”
Norvell was asked if this job was one he wanted in the future to which he replied:
“I’ve got the job today and that’s all I’m concerned about. If you’ve ever coached one day in the National Football League, you realize that you coach for your job every single day. Every day. If you coach one minute for Al Davis you know that you coach for your job every day. So this is nothing new to me. I’ve been functioning like this for a long time, more than a couple of decades. It’s coaching. Everybody wants to tell us the situation all the time. Believe me, we know what the situation is.”
As for how the dynamic amongst the coaches is working with Norvell calling plays, he said they all had a mutual understanding and respect for one another.
“I’ve known Shawn [Watson] for years and so he knows me. He knows me inside and I know him inside. A lot of things don’t have to be said. He wants what’s best for the team. He puts his personal feelings aside and so do I for the team.
As for Joe Wickline…
“I have tremendous respect for what he’s done as a coach, and we talked about that. When you coach in this conference you watch everybody’s film, you know them inside and out even if you don’t know them. I know what he’s done offensively for the last seven or eight years so it’s easy to communicate with Joe. We just all want to win.”
Norvell’s message to recruits through all of this change is pretty much to be patient and trust the process.
“We tell them what our philosophy is, we tell them what we are trying to do. We encourage them to come watch us grow,” Norvell said. “We have three freshmen starting on offense. I’ve been coaching for a long time and I’ve never had three freshmen start on offense. And they are three of our better players. We have a lot of growing to do.
“We won’t be the same team we were this weekend as we were last weekend, we should be better. As we move through the seasons we should continue to improve. I think this team has a lot to look forward to.”
Norvell also had a message for Longhorns fans:
“I hope Texas fans really jump on board with these kids,” he said. “We have a great group of kids and they are fighting their butt off. I hope everybody supports them because they really need your support.”