EVOLVING OFFENSE KEY TO REST OF TEXAS LONGHORNS' SEASON

Watching Texas remake its offense on the fly this season has been fascinating. Frightening, at times (when it stalled in the second half vs Ok State and at TCU). And then fan-pleasing last Saturday in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. And then fantastic last Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.

Think about it: Texas opened the season with Shawn Watson still running a hybrid of a read-option offense with a West Coast passing game that had no identity.

Last Saturday, Texas was running stuff pulled straight out of Gus Malzahn’s playbook in 2013 when he had Nick Marshall at QB, Tre Mason at RB and Sammie Coastes getting deep at WR en route to the national title game.

And even though the plays were being called by Jay Norvell, whose expertise is the passing game, it was installed by Jeff Traylor, who came to UT as the tight ends/special teams coach and is now the TE coach and run game coordinator.

So the question is, can Norvell and Traylor continue to work hand-in-hand as Texas’ offense continues to grow and expand around what should become UT’s new base offense: the two back set out of the shotgun with an offset TE/HB and speed sweep motion?

If the answer is yes, Texas has a chance to beat Kansas State and maybe get on a roll the second half of the season.

If the answer is no, the Longhorns’ success will be short-lived.

This question is THE biggest key to the rest of the season for the Longhorns, in my opinion.

Texas has to keep running the ball the way it did against Oklahoma. There can be no wavering and thinking – like Norvell did against TCU – that the Longhorns should come out throwing the football.

A quick side story:

I bet lunch with a friend after the Oklahoma State game that Texas would win one of its next two games against either TCU or OU.

I said that because I felt sure Texas would come out with a fed-up focus and adjust its mindset to running the ball, come hell or high water, especially against a TCU defense, down six starters with a 190-pound safety playing linebacker.

But then the Horns came out throwing on six of their first eight plays against TCU and fell behind 16-0. The pass play on UT’s second offensive play got Daje Johnson ambushed, causing him to miss the rest of the TCU game and the OU game.

It seemed so obvious that Texas would have to run the ball between the tackles against TCU (like K-State did last Saturday night), I began to wonder if Norvell, who is a great guy but whose expertise is in the passing game, could bring himself to commit to an all-out, spread-to-run concept.

Especially a running game being designed by Jeff Traylor, a former high school coach with no college or pro experience (remember, Norvell spent six years as an assistant in the NFL).

But against OU, Texas revealed a running game perfectly suited for the Longhorns’ personnel, especially an offensive line much better at run-blocking than pass protecting.

Want to know why you didn’t hear OU star outside linebacker Eric Striker’s name last Saturday? Texas wasn’t in obvious passing situations. They weren’t in passing situations – period.

Texas ran it 58 times for 313 yards and threw 12 passes and completed nine for 55 yards.

Most of the running game success came from a two-back set out of the shotgun with an offset TE/HB and some speed-sweep motion.

All of that was a staple of the Auburn offense in 2013.

Like that Auburn team, Texas has a QB with elite speed in Jerrod Heard, a fast-developing RB in D’Onta Foreman and a receiver who can get deep in John Burt.

Now, Texas has to keep adding to that running game out of the two-back set.

Put Daje Johnson in that two-back set and let him run some zone read with Heard. Hand the ball off on the speed sweep (can I get one handoff for Ryan Newsome?), and take more play-action shots deep in the passing game.

UT really didn’t throw deep against OU, and that’s surprising considering how well Texas was running the ball.

I keep asking for more bootlegs and rollouts – more run-pass option plays – for Heard.

But after going back and watching Heard miss his only two throws while rolling out against TCU, it appears Norvell may not trust Heard with these types of throws.

That’s where Shawn Watson has to come in and coach Heard up. Heard should be doing tons of rollout passing during this bye week.

Here’s why:

Kansas State runs a lot of the same read-option stuff Texas is now running.

So K-State will know how to defend it.

If Texas, which has lost to KSU in six of their last seven meetings, doesn’t want to hear Wildcat fans chanting, “We Own Texas” – on Oct. 24, the Longhorns are going to have to be able to adjust on offense, two or three times with new wrinkles or counters.

I firmly believe the defense that can impose its will the best on Oct. 24 is going to win that game.

So five things have to happen in the bye week and next week, in my opinion, for Texas to keep growing and hammering into place its new identity on offense:

 

#1 … The entire offensive coaching staff needs to trust Traylor implicitly to install this new offense.

Who cares that he came from high school? He came from Gilmer HS, where he won three state titles in 4A using this offense, including a 16-0 season last year in which his team averaged 59.2 ppg.

Norvell spent six years in the NFL – two as TE coach with the Oakland Raiders and four with the Indianapolis Colts coaching receivers. Norvell has been an OC at Nebraska and UCLA and co-OC at OU.

It would be easy to let ego get in the way. But Norvell called a great game against the Sooners with UT’s new run game and saw the results.

 

#2 … Shawn Watson needs to coach Jerrod Heard throwing the ball on the move – when sprinting out or on bootlegs.

Texas needs to expand the offense by giving Heard more run-pass options, and being able to complete passes while rolling out or on bootlegs is essential.

Watson also needs to help Heard do a better job of selling play-action in the passing game.

 

#3 …Commit even more to the run game displayed vs OU and build on the two-back set out of the shotgun.

K-State will adjust to whatever Texas does on Oct. 24, so there will have to be answers with new wrinkles whenever KSU adjusts.

 

#4 … Keep incorporating new blood into the offense.

Great call by Norvell to put Lorenzo Joe on the field so much in the OU game.

Joe just secured a spot on this offense because of his frenetic blocking. This running game demands it.

More Caleb Bluiett at TE please. He is a football player who plays the game with a passion that is contagious to teammates.

How about a couple speed sweep carries for Ryan Newsome? The guy is the ultimate team guy and has great speed. So let’s see it. And that leads me to number five ….

 

#5 … Charlie Strong needs to stop letting the position coaches determine which players are in the game.

Everyone wanting to know why Johnathan Gray got 22 carries against OU and D’Onta Foreman only got 15?

That was RB Tommie Robinson’s call. Robinson determines which of his backs are in the game and getting carries.

 

Strong needs to have Robinson coach up the backs during the week and let Norvell and Traylor determine how to use them. 

 


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