OU game notes and analysis: offense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' offensive performance in OU's 14-3 win:

It's almost criminal when an offense with the firepower of the Longhorn offense fails to score a single TD, even against the best of defenses, but that is exactly what happened Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. Texas had 12 offensive series in the game, resulting in the following: six plays, 12 yards and a punt; eight plays, 25 yards and an interception; six plays, 25 yards and a punt; five plays, 28 yards and a missed field goal; 14 plays, 70 yards and a field goal; six plays, 25 yards and a punt; three plays, nine yards and a punt; three plays, two yards and a punt; 13 plays, 46 yards and an interception; one play, no yards and an interception; one play, no yards and an interception; and, mercifully the end of this miserable list, four plays, minus two yards and a turnover on downs. On its two sustained drives on the day, Texas managed just a field goal. Defensive coordinator Carl Reese said his defense didn't do what it needed to do to win the game for the Horns, but the truth is, this one falls predominantly on the offense's lack of production.

At least two factors were involved in that lack of production: poor execution and a typically (in big games) tentative offensive gameplan. Make no mistake, better execution alone, perhaps on only three plays, could have won the game for Texas. One of those came on the last play of the first quarter with the game still scoreless, a play that went for a short gain but that could have gone for a TD. Chris Simms play action faked to the running back heading right and rolled left. Two Sooner defenders covered Longhorn wideouts B.J. Johnson and Roy Williams between the left hash and the left (Oklahoma) sideline. As Simms rolled toward the OU bench, B.J. broke open in between the two defenders and both broke for him, leaving Roy wide open behind both defenders. Simms, though, fired short for Johnson, the play totaling seven yards instead of what could have been a 57-yard TD catch-and-run to Williams. With Texas on the board first (not to mention scoring an early TD), I guarantee you we see a much different game and outcome. Late in the third quarter with the score 7-3 OU, Simms missed Roy again, although this time he did try to get him the ball. Williams had several steps on OU CB Andre Woolfolk deep down the middle of the field, but the QB's pass floated, forcing Roy to slow down and allowing Woolfolk to catch up and break up the potential 40-plus-yard gainer. Finally, in the fourth quarter, the score still 7-3 but with the Horns driving at the Oklahoma 34, Simms tried for Sloan Thomas, who didn't have the cushion that Roy had on the previous play I described but who had a step nonetheless, deep down the middle. The junior QB's underthrow resulted in a jump ball at the goalline between Thomas and CB Antonio Perkins that the OU defender won. Another three yards or so on the pass and Sloan may haul it in in the end zone for the go-ahead TD. Simms called the wind "tricky" and a factor on his underthrows.

Aside from those examples of missed execution, there's also the tentative-offensive-scheme factor. Matter of fact, the coaches have all but admitted that this season would be about not making mistakes on offense that could cost the team a game rather than about maximizing the unit's potential. I think that's exactly what we saw Saturday, a Texas offense playing not to lose rather than playing to win (one example of that is the coaches' hesitancy at using Cedric Benson, who was in on only one snap partially because of his "inexperience" in the OU game). Combine that with poor execution and the result, against good competition, is going to be an L. The OU offense, of course, looked to have a similar philosophy. It worked for the Sooners, unlike for the Horns, largely due to the Oklahoma D's play, but also because OU's second half offense remained balanced while the UT O became mostly one-dimensional. The Sooners reversed the Horns' first half time of possession advantage after the break, holding the ball for 19 minutes of the 30 minute half. To give you an idea of why that happened, here's a breakdown of UT's running plays by quarter: seven first quarter runs for 21 yards (Ivan Williams six carries for 19 yards, Simms on a QB sneak for two yards); five second quarter runs for 15 yards (Ivan one carry for no yards, Tony Jeffery one carry for no yards, Victor Ike three carries for 15 yards); three third quarter runs for six yards (Ivan three carries for six yards); and four fourth quarter runs for 13 yards (Brett Robin one carry for minus-two yards, Simms on a scramble for 11 yards, Ivan two carries for four yards). For the game, Texas officially had 42 passes and 25 rushes, but taking out the sack numbers and the Simms scramble, the Horns had 48 passing plays and just 19 rushing plays. OU's numbers: 35 passing plays and 29 rushing plays. Texas, as it had done several times already this year, didn't give its running game an opportunity to wear down the opposing D after the break in this one.

Post-game, offensive coordinator Greg Davis said the seemingly conservative gameplan was simply the result of taking what the Sooner D gave the Texas offense. "We had to work underneath 'em," he said. "Try to nickel and dime 'em. When people play deep, Chris has gotta check the ball down." Simms said several called plays involved passes over the middle, but the play of the Sooner safeties forced him to check down to his second or third options. The coaches have also emphasized to Simms the need to get rid of the ball quicker than he did in the past, and that could partially explain the preponderance of quick checks to the underneath or flat routes and the tendency to complete third down passes short of the chains.

On Simms' first interception of the day, UT's Roy Williams and defender Woolfolk got tangled up early in the play, according to the Texas QB, resulting in Roy being out of position for the pass. As I mentioned earlier, Simms' second INT got hung up, while his third was a result of OU's Roy Williams amazing athletic play, leaping over Brett Robin and into Simms' throwing arm on his release, leading to the floater that Sooner MLB Teddy Lehman snagged and took two steps for the score. Oklahoma's final pick of Simms came on a toss for the Roy Williams in Burnt Orange on a hitch route that landed in the hands of the Roy Williams in red. The Sooners almost had another pick that could have been returned for six. On the Horns opening possession of the second half, Simms threw to the left sideline for Sloan, but Perkins read the play perfectly, broke on the ball but had it go through his hands. The OU CB, if he had held on, would have had clear sailing up the sideline for a backbreaking defensive TD. Instead, the back-breaker came in the fourth. Simms also threw behind B.J. Johnson at least twice over the middle and in general did not throw well down field all day. Except to increasingly his favorite target Bo Scaife. The sophomore tight end had his third straight strong performance, hauling in four passes for 48 yards. If opposing Ds continue to focus on B.J. and Roy, the Texas offense should take advantage of that by calling Bo's number more than four or five times per game.

For the third consecutive game, the Horns opened the game with a pass play, this time on a quick throw to Roy Williams. Texas opened the second half with an Ivan Williams run.

Texas opened the game in a two-TE, two-WR, single back set and used that formation on four of its first six plays. The drive went for 12 yards. On the Horns' second possession, the offense returned to what might be called its base offense (more on that statement in a minute) -- the three-wide, single-TE, single-back set -- for all eight plays on the 25-yard drive. On its third offensive series, UT mixed up formations, working out of a three-wide set, a two-wide, split-back set and a five-wide set. The drive lasted six plays and covered 25 yards. More change-up on the fourth series for the Horns, this time working out of a split-receiver, off-set I formation for the first four plays and a five-wide set on the final play of the 28-yard drive. On the final drive of the first half, Texas used it's dual tight end alignment on nine of the drive's 14 plays, plus the three-wide set twice and split backs or off-set I on the remaining three. Are you noticing a pattern here? Or, more accurately, the lack of a pattern? This offense is schizophrenic. Is it any wonder the players have trouble getting into a rhythm? Which leads us to the potential simplification of the offense that Mack Brown mentioned Sunday. The unit needs an identity, something I've mentioned throughout the season. I thought that identity would be the three-wide set, a set the coaches had seemed to be gravitating to, a set where the Horns have been successful both running and passing the football. It doesn't necessarily have to be that set. It could also be five-wides or two-TEs, but it needs to be something specific rather than the jumbled mess of ineffectiveness we saw Saturday.

Ivan Williams, after running with authority over the first four games of the season, seemed tentative against the Sooners. Ivan gained just 30 yards on 12 carries (2.5 yards per carry), well below his 5.6 yards per carry average coming in. Obviously, OU is far and away the best defense that Ivan and the Horns have faced this fall, but UT's starting tailback seemed to revert back to his tentative play of last season and earlier this spring, play that had him down the depth chart behind Ike and Robin. Ike finished with three rushes for 16 yards (5.3 per carry) and showed outstanding moves and balance on consecutive carries in the second quarter, one for eight and the other for seven yards. Williams' performance could open the door back up for Ike in the tailback picture. The bigger question, though, is where Benson fits into the picture. Davis said earlier this fall that pass blocking issues wouldn't keep the true freshman tailback off the field, but that looks to be exactly what happened against the Sooners. Sadly, because of that, we'll never know if Benson would have turned in one of those amazing freshman performances that have dotted the Texas-OU series.


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