In one mid-game interview segment, Mack Brown talked about running well against good teams (read: OU) and making a commitment to the run. Brown and Davis proved their commitment to the running game to me in a big way on Saturday night.
I charted several aspects of the running game from the tape. (When I say running game, I am talking about scheduled running plays to a running back WR reverses, fake field goals, sneaks by the QB, and scrambles out of the pocket don't count.) Out of the 44 running plays the first team ran, 86% of the plays went up against eight-plus man fronts. The only time UH got out of an eight-man front was in a three-wideout, one-back set. Most of the Horns' plays (34 to be exact) were run against an eight-man front and those plays netted 154 yards. A quick look at the math shows five offensive linemen, usually one tight end, and one fullback against eight defenders. Eight, obviously, is one greater than seven. So what does that tell us about the Longhorns? When they play teams that have an abundance of talent in a seven-man front, they will have already faced something similar (UH's eight might equal OU's seven).
Even more amazing about Davis' play calling is the number of times that UT ran to the side of the formation that was outnumbered. An offense is outnumbered on one side of the ball when the opposing defense has more players on one side of the center than does the O. For example, if UT has a guard, tackle and a fullback on one side against a DT, DE, LB, and a walked up safety, the Horns are outnumbered. Texas ran into an obvious disadvantage 19 times on the night, gaining 62 yards on those 19 snaps. In this case, given the defensive advantage, a three-plus average looks pretty good. Why would Davis do such a thing? Why would he continue to ram the ball into a losing situation? One reason is to put the team in a tough situation against a weaker opponent to see how the players will react. Another reason is it gives the coaches a chance to evaluate their players and plays more accurately. If the play works in this situation, it should work against anyone.
What made rushing against Houston even tougher was the easy key UT gave the Coogs all night. On running plays, the fullback took you to the play 89% of the time, meaning where the fullback went, the play went also. Idiocy by the offensive coordinator, right? Lunacy on the part of Mack Brown, no? No. Not at all. The misdirection plays that UT ran (where the fullback didn't give a lead block) were at its disposal all night. The five misdirection plays the Horns ran netted 31 yards. Those plays will be ready when needed. I would much rather establish strong (and possibly false) tendencies against a weaker opponent to set up misdirection against the stronger ones.
Conversely, the offset-I look by the Longhorns really needs to be scrapped or reworked. The five running plays out of the offset-I gained only 10 yards, with seven coming on one play. The "G Lead" that I've mentioned previously didn't fare so well out of the offset I (4-6 yards). Interestingly, Will Matthews does a little better job of leading on the play than does Matt Trissel. I don't know if it is superior side-to-side agility or a better understanding of angles, but Matthews might have some PT just for that play (though that is an easy tendency for other teams to pick up).
This leads me to my final observation: the play of Matthews vs. Trissel. Obviously, Trissel is the coaches' choice at this point. The senior fullback ran 25 running plays with the first team, while the sophomore ran eight. Trissel's plays gained 123 yards, while Matthews' gained 32. Matthews, though, played much better than he has so far this year. Continued improvement from Matthews may give the Longhorns two strong fullbacks.
In conclusion, Davis may make you want to scream at the television, pull your hair out, and utter obscenities in front of women, but I believe there is a method to his madness. If a former high school coach can see it, I'm sure the Horns' current OC can see that he is running into an eight-man front to the side of the offense that is outnumbered. He must have a good reason. We'll find out for sure when the opponents go from September's schedule of also-rans to October's run of championship contenders.
Mark Kissinger has coached high school football in Texas and Tennessee, coaching OL, TE, WR, DT, DE, and serving as both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In high school, he was coached by the legendary G.A. Moore. Mark recently retired from coaching and received his M.B.A. from Rice University. His 'Technical Analysis' column will appear each week on InsideTexas.com.