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Aaron Carrara

Reality Check on the Texas Offense (article by Jameson McCausland)

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By Jameson McCausland

The Texas Longhorns are 8 games into the season and after another dismal offensive performance against TCU, it is time for a reality check for the Longhorns. Simply put, the offense cannot sustain drives and put points on the board. There have been moments of success, but the failures far outweigh the few bright spots. Fans are frustrated and Tom Herman is searching for answers. It’s time to take a deeper dive into the root of Texas’ offensive problems:

What makes an offense successful?

The easy answer to this question can be found by looking at stats. How many points does a team average and how many yards are they amassing each game? If you applied this method to Texas then you would find that the Longhorns are a middle-of-the-pack offense relative to every other FBS team. Texas is averaging 413 yards per game and 28.6 points per game, which ranks them 53rd and 55th out of 129 FBS teams, respectively. Stats get skewed though when you face inferior teams in non-conference play (San Jose State) and play 3 overtime games (USC, Kansas State and Oklahoma State).

When I ask myself if an offense is successful, I look at 3 questions:

1. Do they have competent offensive line play?
2. Is the personnel being put in positions to succeed?
3. Is the offense stable?

Let’s take these 3 questions and apply them to the current Texas offense.

1. Do they have competent offensive line play?

Okay, so we are already off to a rocky start. It is no secret that Texas has not had competent offensive line play, which is what many say is the primary reason for the offensive struggles. You can place the blame on a number of things: attrition, injuries and regression in play. A lot of people point to the potential return of Connor Williams as something that would benefit the offensive line greatly, and they are correct to an extent. The problem is that even with Williams in the lineup, Texas is still starting four lineman who are not playing well. One offensive lineman does not equate to quality blocking up front. You must have competent play from everyone on the line. The teams that have good offensive line play often have 1-2 really good players, and the rest of the line is filled out by veteran guys who have years of experience in the program, displaying sound technique and fundamentals. Texas is nowhere close to that.

The good news is that there are teams that have a poor offensive line yet still boast a successful offense. The only caveat to all of this is that if the answer to question #1 is ‘no’, the answer to questions 2 and 3 better be yes.

2. Is the personnel being put in positions to succeed?

This question can further be broken up into two parts:

Are the most talented personnel playing?
When they are playing, are they being utilized properly?

The answer to the first part is yes, for the most part. It did not help that it took Texas seven games to discover that their best two running backs were the two receiving the least amount of snaps. The wide receiver rotation has received its share of scrutiny, but Texas is deep enough at the position to where it is should be a non-factor when answering this question. The first step is to get these players on the field, and the next step is to utilize these players in a way that benefits the offense.

The second part of the question is where things begin to fall apart and manifests the deficiencies of the Longhorns. When coaches are able to maximize the talent their personnel brings to the table, they can mask deficiencies in certain areas, like a poor offensive line. Utilizing players properly means knowing their strengths and weaknesses, because every player has them. There have been times this season where the Texas offensive staff has asked a player to do something that was good in design and concept, but it failed because they refused to realize the individual player limitations. Asking an offensive line that struggles with mobility to block horizontally on a stretch play or outside zone play is like asking a defensive lineman to kick a 40-yard field goal. Every running back on the roster brings a different dimension that can be utilized successfully, and the coaches treated them as interchangeable through the first half of the season. This team has certain receivers that thrive on getting the ball in space and cutting upfield, yet the coaches continue to call jet sweeps to possession receivers who lack the necessary burst to turn the corner.

When the answer to part 2 of this question is no, the answer to part 1 becomes irrelevant, and the entire question becomes a no.

3. Is the offense stable?

The answer to this question requires not only looking at the current year, but previous years as well. When determining the stability of an offense, I look at two things: the quarterback position and scheme.

Over the last six seasons, the Longhorns have introduced seven different starters at quarterback. Arguably the most important position on the field, the offense needs the quarterback position to be a position of stability. I know that injuries and depth have forced Texas to play some quarterbacks before they wanted to, but with Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger both still being underclassmen, Texas has the opportunity to have a multi-year starter at quarterback.

Over the past four seasons, Texas has changed offensive schemes four times. This is a recipe for disaster. The Longhorns went from the Shawn Watson west coast scheme (2014), to the run-based spread (2015)*, to the Veer and Shoot (2015) and finally back to the spread for 2017.

One of my favorite lines I hear every year is “Well (insert team name here) is losing their starting QB, so they will be taking a step back next year.” If only it was that simple. Teams who have consistent schemes are able to have more long-term success because it allows them to recruit to the scheme, experience less scheme related attrition and develop underclassmen under the same scheme year-after-year. This is why Oklahoma State will still win 9 or 10 games next year without Mason Rudolph, and Oklahoma will still be a favorite in the Big 12 without potential Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. This is not to say that it is bad to fire coordinators when they are under-performing, because that is absolutely warranted, but eventually you have to pick a scheme and stick with it.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to read through all of this and not think a change needs to be made in the offensive meeting room. While new coaches would continue a trend of instability, Tom Herman needs to desperately find something that works. The Longhorns can not continue to display on offense what they have been showing this year.

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