TEXAS' HUMILIATING LOSS AT ISU REQUIRES MORE STAFF CHANGES

Texas' humiliating shutout loss at Iowa State is a clear signal to Charlie Strong that run-game coordinator Jeff Traylor needs to be calling the plays and freshman QB Kai Locksley needs to be getting all the second-team reps with some playing time against Kansas next Saturday. Extreme? Read on ...

Texas had two offensive plays across the Iowa State 50-yard-line until there was less than a minute to play.

At that point, Iowa State fans were going out of their minds looking at a scoreboard in Ames that read ... IOWA STATE 24 ... TEXAS 0.

And that's how it ended.

Everyone is going to look at this 24-0 wipeout against a two-win team and want to fire all the coaches and all the players.

But I'm going to single out Jay Norvell. Unless Charlie Strong told Norvell to purposely go away from the identity of the offense - just as he did against TCU and in the second half of the Oklahoma State game. Unless Strong told Norvell to go away from the power running identity that helped beat Oklahoma and Kansas State, Norvell gets the most resounding F on a night full of them and should be replaced as play caller by run-game coordinator Jeff Traylor, who installed the 2-back set with speed sweep motion that crushed OU and KSU.

On UT's first offensive play, Johnathan Gray ran for 6 yards. On second-and-4, Norvell returned to his TCU tendencies and called a sideways pass to Daje Johnson that got him killed for a 3-yard loss. On third-and-7, Heard dropped back to pass and got sacked. Punt.

On UT's second possession, UT used the 2-back set out of the shotgun with speed sweep motion, and Heard ran for 8 yards on first down. Then, Daje Johnson took a sweep for 9 yards.  Out of the 2-back set, Gray ran for 4 yards and then 1 yard, setting up third-and-5. Instead of getting into the 2-back set again, maybe using play-action for a pass to Daje on a wheel route, which was open all day last week, Texas got in a 3-wide, 1-back set, cuing Iowa State to rush three and drop eight into zone coverage.

Heard was sacked for a 6-yard loss.

From that point on, the only ones who knew what Texas was trying to do offensively were the players in red and gold.

Strong ultimately bears responsibility for sticking with Shawn Watson through the off-season and then selecting Norvell to replace him instead of Traylor, who may not have been ready at that time.

But by installing the two-back set that Strong loves because it allows UT to run with a lead blocker and gives the offense the deception to give the ball to four different players (QB, 2 RBs and the player on the sweep), Traylor has shown he's ready.

There was so much play-action available when using that set the past two weeks: the wheel route, a throw to Daje Johnson off of a fake on the speed sweep, rollouts, boots, waggles, you name it. Traylor knows how to keep adding to it.

Norvell simply went away from that identity - on the road, against a desperate team with a decent offense and a decent defensive line. Just like he did against TCU, when he thought it would be a good idea to throw sideways passes, when what his QB does best in the passing game is throw deep.

With the 2-back set as its base, Texas ran the ball 58 times for 313 yards vs OU and 53 times for 247 yards vs K-State. That's the way Strong wanted the offense to operate coming into this season. And it was working. There were things to build on. Like play-action deep balls.

Instead, Texas went back to thinking it could run out of a shotgun, three-wide set with Iowa State spying on Heard like crazy while playing zone defense and keeping all eyes and spies on Heard.

The Texas defense played well enough for the Horns to get a foothold in this game. The D held Iowa State to 10 points until late in the third quarter.

That was plenty of time for the offense to get going. But there was an arrogance to the play-calling Saturda night - not using the counter or isolation, the power running plays that had helped Texas beat OU and K-State. The identity of the offense was power running right?

So you go away from that? Because Iowa State's defense had given up 354 yards per game through the air in Big 12 play, did Norvell think he could use Ames as a place to work in the passing game?

You know your QB throws a nice deep ball. But there were no deep throws with Heard? There wasn't one until Tyrone Swoopes threw a pass out of bounds to a wide open Daje Johnson on a wheel route in the second half.

Texas needed to keep building on the offense that provided all the success against OU and K-State, keep pounding away with the counter and isolation out of that two-back set with an offset TE/H-back.

Instead, UT went back to thinking it could win man-on-man up front against a D-line led by gritty, 300-pound nose tackle Demond Tucker (97), who was a bad matchup for Taylor Doyle without a lead blocker helping out.

Unfortunately for Norvell, by using more of that 3-wide, 1-back set, it tipped off Iowa State that Texas was going to try to throw it against the worst pass defense in Big 12 play. So the Cyclones always seemed to rush only three and drop eight when UT went to that in passing situations. 

But Heard hasn't developed at all on the short and intermediate routes Norvell was calling against ISU. Heard consistently locks in one receiver and misses guys open underneath.

You're starting to wonder if he has any feel for the passing game pre-snap or post-snap - unless it's a deep ball.

You're also wondering if Heard can throw a pass while rolling out. He's been terrible at that all season and threw an interception while rolling out against Iowa State.

You can't have a mobile quarterback who can't throw while rolling out. I said going into the bye week that Shawn Watson needed to work non-stop with Heard on throwing while on the move.

And I repeat - no deep balls for Heard? The protection, believe it or not, was there to get a couple deep balls off. I thought Texas would try that on the first play of the third quarter to try to jump-start everything.

Nothing.

You can make excuses about Texas having terrible field position in the game - four drives started at or inside UT's 12. Six drives started at or inside UT's 25. But when you employ your power running concepts that had been successful, you tend to slam your way out of jams.

And here's a scary thought: When Alex De La Torre, a key blocker in the 18-Wheeler package,  went out of the game with an injury, so did the 18-Wheeler package.

But there's no doubt Texas has to throw it better. Even Swoopes struggled to throw it when coaches turned to him for a spark.

I didn't like the idea of redshirting Kai Locksley and said before the season I thought Heard and Locksley would be the two-deep at QB with Locksley starting in 2016.

The second Heard moved into the starting lineup, I would have been giving Locksley the second-team reps and developing him like crazy. Why? Because Locksley is a bigger version of Heard (6-3, 200 pounds with elusive receiver speed), and he's the son of a Power 5 offensive coordinator (Maryland's Mike Locksley).

By bringing in Locksley, you can keep running the same offense. When you turn to Swoopes, the offense changes, because he's not as elusive as Heard and Locksley.

I've spoken with Locksley on multiple occasions.

The thing I like about Locksley, he has a leader's mentality. He wants it on his shoulders. My concern about Heard, even though he's just a redshirt freshman, has always been that I'm not sure he wants it all on his shoulders or is putting the time in to improve as a passer. Maybe he's just not getting coached properly.

But my biggest concern is who is calling the plays. And I have nothing against Jay Norvell. I think he's a great receivers coach. But he's a passing-minded offensive coordinator. And the spread-to-run concept that worked against OU and K-State was put in by Jeff Traylor. 

The stuff that Traylor installed, the Malzahn/Morris spread-to-run concept, is a mindset that has to be taught and then built upon. 

And it's a mindset. It can't be part of the offense. With UT's personnel right now, it has to be the base of the offense.

It can't just be something selected occasionally from play card menu. And tonight makes me think Norvell just isn't the guy to be calling plays.

When I said after the TCU game that Charlie should shake things up again and elevate Traylor to play-caller, it's because Norvell, against a TCU defense depleted up the middle by injury (with a 190-pound safety playing linebacker),  came out throwing. On 6 of UT's first 8 offensive plays, Norvell had Heard throwing sideways against TCU's speedy perimeter players. And by the time those eight plays were done, Texas was down 16-0 and on the way to a night just like tonight.

I wasn't sure Norvell would commit to the spread-to-run concept and build off of it by knowing how to adjust or tweak it from week to week. He's a passing game guy at heart. Traylor used a spread-to-run concept to win three state titles in 4A, including a 16-0 season last year in which Gilmer averaged 59.2 ppg.

Norvell called an uptight game against Iowa State, just like the TCU game and the second half of the Oklahoma State game, when Norvell also went away from the two-back set and went more three-, four- and five-wide.

Against Iowa State, as the running game and sideways passing game out of the three-, four- and five-wide sets went nowhere - again - the confidence began to slip (again).

The plays that made yards out of the two-back set early (remember the running plays I mentioned at the top of this post), that have been giving this offense the spark the last two games, were nowhere to be found. Just like the Texas offense - period.

Strong couldn't afford this loss. It's now eight losses of 21 points or more in two years for him. UT fans were hoping those blowout losses were over after a 50-7 loss at TCU was followed by wins against OU and K-State.

Strong's Texas teams are 0-11 when the other team scores first and 0-10 when trailing at halftime. Strong's teams have been miserable after halftime - scoring a TD in the third quarter in only four of 21 games. UT hadn't been shut out in back-to-back seasons since 1961-62 (KSU blanked Texas 23-0 last year).

In Texas' two worst losses of the season, at TCU and Iowa State, Norvell abandoned UT's identity - its power running game. 

Can Strong afford for that to happen again?

Or is it time to see what run-game coordinator Jeff Traylor can do calling plays? Everyone who has coached with Traylor has told me this personnel is exactly what Traylor won with at Gilmer. And Texas high school coaches have gone on to big things (Art Briles and Chad Morris among them). What if Traylor has that kind of upside?

Strong has seen what Norvell can do. Before Strong suffers another embarrassing loss or gets to the end of the season with a rioting fan base demanding a big-name OC - or else - it's time to see what Traylor can do with the running game he installed.

And give Locksley all the second-team reps this week and some playing time against Kansas.

Before it's too late.

 


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