WVU LOSS: MORE EVIDENCE TEXAS OFFENSIVE STAFF CHANGES COMING

Texas' 38-20 loss at West Virginia Saturday was more evidence why the Longhorns will be making offensive staff changes after the season.

And let me say, I have no personal animosity toward any of the coaches on the offensive staff. All of them have had tons of success in their careers and are all great guys. 

But the art of coaching football is to put your players in position to make plays. Have them do what they do best. Asking a player to do something he's not equipped to do or doesn't have the confidence to execute is terrible coaching.

Whether it's Jay Norvell's fault or Charlie Strong's fault, Texas keeps doing it.

Ten games into this season, this offense, which dominated OU and K-State as a power spread, doesn't know what it wants to be.

Power spread? Passing spread? Heard at QB? Swoopes at QB?

Does play-caller Jay Norvell even know or have a say in what personnel is on the field?

Or is it still being determined by position coaches?

Because as good as D'Onta Foreman was on Saturday - and he was really good (more on that in a second) - he shouldn't have been running the lead leg on a reverse, ultimately fumbling the hand-off from Jerrod Heard that was scooped and scored by the WVU defense for a 7-3 lead with 3:39 left in the first quarter.

Didn't that exact same decision (D'Onta Foreman running a reverse) kill UT's best drive across midfield at K-State last year because of a fumble?

Then, as good as D'Onta Foreman was Saturday - and he was really good (more on that in a second) - why on earth was he the intended receiver on a critical pass on second-and-goal with a chance to cut WVU's lead to seven points with just more than 9 minutes left to play?

When Foreman was already nursing a jammed finger?

The ball went right through his hands.

Why wouldn't you have Kirk Johnson, a running back with great hands, in on that play?

Again, does Jay Norvell even know what personnel is on the field in critical situations? Or is that running back Tommie Robinson's call? Do they talk?

Even on the drives and plays Texas executed well - and there were enough of those Saturday to win the game - there were question marks.

Johnathan Gray got the first two series at running back. D'Onta Foreman got the next two, including a 65-yard TD run out of the two-back Insanity Set with a crushing block from Chris Warren III.

So, why did Gray get 10 more carries (for 36 yards, 3.6 ypc) after Foreman's home run, touchdown run? Foreman ran 15 times after his 65-yard, TD run for 81 yards, an average of 5.4 yards per carry.

Including all 18 of his carries, Foreman ran for 147 yards (8.2 ypc). Gray, who left the game with a foot injury in the third quarter, finished with 14 carries for 56 yards (4 ypc).

It was clear after the first quarter, the hot hand running the ball was Foreman.

If the coaches are determined to have Gray in the game, then run the two-back Insanity Set and let him be the lead blocker for Foreman and catch some passes out of the backfield.

But Foreman has shown repeatedly this season, when healthy, he is the more productive runner.

And this is an offense starving for production. Carries right now should be completely determined by production. The players know who should be getting the carries. When the coaches don't carry out the obvious, they get confused and start to question things. They play tentative, with less confidence.

Even I'm tired of hearing myself rant about how the two-back Insanity set with speed sweep motion should be the base of a power spread, play-action-deep offense (especially when UT ran for a  65-yard TD from that set). So, consider that last sentence my 30-minute rant.

But with a minute left until halftime, Texas got the ball at its own 25 with all three timeouts. And either Jay Norvell or Charlie Strong didn't trust Jerrod Heard to throw the ball to try to get points before the half (more on that in a second).

So what did Texas do? Ran the ball three times with J Gray for 3, 7 and 4 yards and didn't use a single timeout.

Just ran out the clock.

Having a minute left and three timeouts is a lifetime in college football.

You don't want to throw it? Fine.

How about giving the appearance of throwing it by running that delay hand-off on the stretch play to D'Onta Foreman that he ran for 91 yards against Oklahoma? Then call timeout.

If it makes big yards, run the exact same play again. Call your second timeout. Rinse and repeat.

There are 100 reasons to have had D'Onta Foreman in the game at the end of the half, trying to put him in his best running plays, INCLUDING that he has runs of 91 yards, 93 yards (TD) and 65 yards (TD) this season.

If you're not going to play-action deep to John Burt twice per quarter the way you should be, then at least put your home-run back on the field.

But here's the biggest reason you should have tried to get points at the end of the first half:

Because the same QB you didn't trust to throw a pass at the end of the half with three timeouts and a minute left was asked to throw pass after pass in the fourth quarter, when Texas had enough time to still be running the ball and get back into the game.

I don't blame Heard's two, fourth-quarter interceptions for this loss.

I blame the lack of direction of this Texas offense for not putting him in position to do what he does best - run and play-action deep - since the OU and K-State victories. 

I credit Heard for bouncing back from being replaced by Swoopes for a 12-play drive (that ended with a Swoopes' fumble recovered by WVU at the Mountaineers' 13) in the second quarter and then opening the third quarter by delivering a beautiful, 15-play, 80-yard TD drive that included four third-down conversions - three by pass, including a 5-yard TD strike to Daje Johnson.

That cut WVU's lead to 21-17.

Even after the Texas defense gave up a seven-play, 56-yard TD drive by WVU that included a 27-yard run by Wendell Smallwood AND after a fumbled kick return by Kris Boyd at the Texas 22 that led to a WVU field goal, the Longhorns were down 31-17 with 14:51 left to play.

Plenty of time to run the ball with Foreman, who had five carries for 25 yards (5 ypc) in the third quarter.

Heck, Foreman ran three times for 19 yards on UT's first possession of the fourth quarter. But Norvell kept having Heard drop back to throw. And he was sacked three times and picked off twice. 

Even after Heard's first INT of the fourth quarter, Texas got the ball at the West Virginia 37 with 10:38 left after a great three-and-out by the Texas defense and didn't run the ball once - not even after a 28-yard pass from Heard to Daje Johnson to the WVU 9.

Instead of getting into the 18-Wheeler package or the two-back set, Heard was sacked for a loss of 6 on first down and then threw the pass to D'Onta Foreman at the goal line that went through his hands.

The Horns settled for a FG.

Then, the defense came up with another great three-and-out. And Texas got the ball back at its own 43 with 7:18 left, down 11 points. Again, plenty of time to keep gashing WVU on the ground. 

Norvell dialed up a pass for Heard on first down. Interception. Ballgame.

Again, the QB you didn't trust to throw the ball at the end of the half with three timeouts was being asked to throw the ball over and over again in the fourth quarter - with the game on the line - the running game abandoned.

Texas averaged 8.3 yards per carry in the first quarter (11 carries for 91 yards), averaged 5.2 ypc in the second quarter (19 for 98 yards) and averaged 4.8 ypc in the third quarter (16 carries for 77 yards).

The Longhorns were credited with eight carries for 11 yards in the fourth quarter (1.4 ypc), but three of those were sacks of Heard for minus-12 yards. Texas averaged 4.6 ypc on the five running plays.

The Longhorns had enough offensive firepower Saturday to win the game.

How many of the five turnovers do you put on the coaches for failing to put players in position to do what they do best? One? Two? Three?

What percentage of UT's problems are tied to the offense? I said last week 85 percent. I'll stick with that after Saturday's game.

Sad to say, but a day like today is why Norvell (and Josh Heupel) were fired at OU last season.

They didn't stick with the run when it was working (against Baylor in 2014, when Samaje Perine had only 5 carries as well as in the first half against Texas Tech when backup QB Cody Thomas threw 3 first-half INTs, helping give Tech a 14-7 halftime lead).

Mike Stoops was so pissed at OU's co-OCs, I was told he screamed at his brother Bob on the way into the locker room at intermission in Lubbock last year - loud enough for Heupel and Norvell to hear - "You better tell your offensive coordinators to start running the f'n ball or we're going get run the f out of here."

By the way, the Sooners came out and ran it 33 of 35 times in the second half of that game. And OU pulled away for a 42-30 victory. Maybe Strong needs to start walking down the hall and yelling at Norvell to run the damn power spread and play-action deep - as Texas did in 2013 to get on a six-game winning streak.

This is how identity-less UT's Witness Protection Program offense has become - there's actually speculation Texas has been trying to have Heard throw it more since the K-State game so that recruits such as 2016 QB Shane Buechele don't start to worry that the Horns are only about the ground-and-pound and de-commit - as WR Tren'Davian Dickson has already done.

No coach would be dumb enough to do that. You focus on winning games by doing what your current talent does best - even if it's ground-and-pound - and you explain to a laser-armed recruit like Buechele that you're doing what you have to do to win right now and will adjust the offense after the season with a new offensive staff.

But the buck stops with Strong.

He created this mess by keeping Shawn Watson as play caller to create a power spread at tempo. Then, when Texas created a successful power spread with the help of run-game coordinator Jeff Traylor, Norvell has abandoned it time and again.

With a bowl game undoubtedly out of reach, is it finally time to allow Traylor to call the plays for the final two games?

Is it finally time to play-action deep to John Burt twice per quarter?

Is it finally time to use the two-back Insanity Set so D'Onta Foreman can get the majority of the carries and Johnathan Gray can block for him and catch some passes? That set also benefits Chris Warren, who averaged 6.5 yards on four carries vs WVU and could have used some of Gray's touches Saturday.

Is it finally time to give some more touches to RB Kirk Johnson and WR Ryan Newsome, two future stars at Texas?

Is it finally time to give a whole bunch more snaps at safety to The Kraken (DeShon Elliott)? Do you think Elliott takes the wrong angle on the 53-yard TD pass with a minute left in the half? I bet he ends up with the ball!

One last thing - this team's uptight mindset, especially on the road, is on Strong. When things get tough on the road, this team tightens up like a hamstring on a cold day. And that's on the head coach. Texas didn't believe it could win in the fourth quarter in Morgantown despite having the dominant running game.

Why?

Is Strong being too negative?

He has told us that he tells his players before a game if he doesn't think they are ready to play and how they could lose if they don't get ready.

If you harp too much on the negative or try to shame your players into doing a better job, you can tear down their confidence and convince them they are going to lose. Period.

Strong has alternately trashed his senior leadership while also trying to rely on it. You can't have it both ways. Then, when you stick with veteran players - even when younger players are outperforming them (D. Foreman, D. Elliott), the locker room starts to get confused. 

Just as you can't imply to your quarterback at the end of the half you don't trust him to throw the ball with three timeouts and then turn to him in the fourth quarter - when there's still plenty of time to do what you do best and run the ball - and expect him to win a game with his arm.

There's a reason in football that guys in Strong's profession are encouraged to "coach 'em up."

 

 

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