Texas Offense: Any Sign of Greatness?

Every great offensive team displays certain tendencies of things it can do with relative effectiveness, Texas Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis believes. It begs the question: with the heart of the schedule looming in October, what trends can be detected from the 2006 Longhorn offense?

(Assuming, of course, that this is -- or, can be -- a great offense).

"You always try to do something that's a little bit different, especially early in the year," Davis said. "Then you take your tendencies and bring them properly. All great offenses have great tendencies. Those are the things you're looking for, especially as you get four or five weeks into the season."

In Davis' perfect world, the Horns would look for single-game totals of 250 yards rushing and 250 yards passing, indicative of a general balance in the play selection between running and passing attempts. Head coach Mack Brown, meanwhile, has made no secret of his penchant for big, powerful backs who can run up the gut, in part, because Brown believes the ability to effectively attack the middle is indicative a team's toughness.

The emphases in the early going -- with new QBs -- has been a tailback-by-committee approach in which Texas is running the ball 63 percent of the time. The Horns have 158 rushing attempts, compared to 93 passes, through four weeks of football. The ground game is averaging 226.75 yards of real estate each contest (No. 8 nationally) and put up respectable rushing totals against top-ranked Ohio State (172 net yards on 31 attempts, 5.5 ypc). By comparison, Texas ran the ball 68.5 percent of the time (187 rushes in 273 plays) through the first four games of last season.

During the preseason, pigskin pundits predicted a trend toward a power running game at Texas during the post-Vince Young era. The early trend has been toward a horizontal rushing attack from a one-back, spread offense in which the ball-carriers run sideline-to-sideline, waiting for the lanes to emerge in the zone blocking scheme. There's good, bad and (potentially) ugly in this. From the press box Saturday, RB Jamaal Charles five-yard TD run was a thing a beauty as he patiently followed his blocking, picking his spots and darting into the end zone. Charles would later lose four yards when he ran out of real estate and tried to loop back against the pursuit. There is some question if RB Selvin Young has the explosiveness to turn the corner, or, even with Charles-in-charge, if the east-west attack is going to pan out against some of the formidable defensive fronts that Texas faces in October.

Earlier this week, Davis was asked why he has opted not to attack the middle more often, given Texas' outstanding offensive line and stable of talented running backs. It was a good question, Davis admitted.

"The way people are playing the zone is that they're really trying to stretch the zone," Davis replied. "It's especially that way early in the game. Everybody plays it a little bit different. Some people try to disrupt it by big-time running, trying to keep the ball going wide. As the (Iowa State) game went on, we got the ball back up inside more. We're discussing some things about a little bit more of a down hill (running game)."

Part of that discussion includes the realization that, although the zone read will remain in the arsenal, it may not be Texas' featured play. There is also the likelihood that Texas will operate from under center a little more than it has up to this point. Excluding goal line situations, Texas has used the shotgun at least 90 percent of the time this season, Davis estimates. The Horns operated from the 'gun 79 percent of the time during the national championship season.

"Right now, we're much more 'gun than even when we ended the season last year. Before it's all said and done, the numbers will probably even back out".

Texas will likely operate from under center between 20-22 percent of the time by year's end, Davis believes. Neither of the freshman QBs operated under center during their prep star careers.

"Getting under center doesn't mean we go to two backs," Davis said. "We can get under center with two tight ends, and we can get under center with three wide receivers. (Being under center) gives you the ability to go downhill quicker. You can still run the zone from underneath center."

The Horns are averaging 190.2 ypg passing (NCAA No. 62), and a consistent vertical attack (presumably remains on Davis' things-to-do list. In the early going, RS-freshman QB Colt McCoy has been given a steady diet of high-percentage, intermediate routes. This week, McCoy is rated No. 11 nationally in passing efficiency (including 56-of-82 passing for 668 yards, 8 TDs and 1 INT). He accounts for 167 passing ypg (NCAA No. 66) and 11.93 yards-per-completion (No. 63).

Davis has long maintained that he prefers to go deep at least once or twice per quarter. This season, many of the passing attempts have basically functioned as runs. Bubble screens, hitches and lateral tosses down the LOS have been a staple in the passing game. Longhorn receivers are currently average 8.2 yards-per-catch while averaging 14.2 yards-per-catch through the first four games in 2005.

Bottom line: Texas is averaging 417 ypg (No. 23) and 38 ppg (No. 10) against one really great team, one pretty good team and two pretty poor teams. The play calling indicates a weaning process for a freshman QB who, though poised and accurate, has a fairly soft arm with a tendency to put some air under the deep ball. This type of playcalling, however, gets real dicey when Texas faces defenses with the kind of closing speed that Oklahoma typically has, not to mentioned improved defenses in consecutive road games at Nebraska and Texas Tech.

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