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The Problem With 'Run the Dang Ball'


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I just realized the Texas fans who were critical of Texas' number of pass attempts in the second half were being serious, and I felt the need to address it.

 

Shane Buechele or Tyrone Swoopes "attempted" passes (stood in the backfield and looked for someone to throw to) on 18 of Texas' 40 second-half plays (45%).

 

Eight of those 18 attempts were run-pass options, meaning the quarterback decided to throw the ball because the defense was well-positioned to take away the run or was vulnerable to the pass. RPOs are an enormous part of this offense, but if you still find this figure objectionable, consider that the quarterbacks on RPOs were 7-of-8 for 49 yards, and the one incompletion was a drop.

 

That leaves 10 dropbacks (25% of all second-half plays). Take a breath and consider the down and distance on those plays:

  • 3rd & 13
  • 3rd & 8
  • 2nd & 15
  • 3rd & 15
  • 2nd & 8
  • 2nd & 8
  • 2nd & 10
  • 3rd & 10
  • 2nd & 11
  • 3rd & 9

"But look at those two 2nd & 8 plays! Run the dang ball!" - RTDB crowd

 

Those plays resulted in completions of 19 and 10 yards.

 

The 2nd & 10? It was Texas' lone deep shot of the half against press coverage. DRIVE KILLER, RIGHT? The next play was a 10-yard completion and first down.

 

The last two plays on the list were on the final drive of the game with time running out.

 

To recap, Sterlin Gilbert called dropback pass plays in obvious passing situations. Imagine the backlash if Texas was calling 7-yard run plays on 3rd & 13. Other times, the quarterbacks converted run plays into pass plays because of what Cal was doing defensively, and it was so disastrous that they completed 87.5% of them. The only ones of those RPO passes that didn't result in a first down or 2nd/3rd & 3 or less were: 

  • a Burt drop on 1st & 10 (got a first down two plays later)
  • a 4-yard gain on 2nd & 17 (17 yards = not a bad time to throw it)
  • a 10-yard gain on 3rd & 15 (see above)
  • a 1-yard loss on 1st & 10 on the final series of the game

If you need something to blame for the offense's struggles in the second half, I nominate penalties. (There were other issues but this is the most obvious.) Texas had one offensive penalty in the first half; it killed the drive. Texas had four offensive penalties spread among four drives in the second half; they killed every drive. As in, Texas did not get another first down on any series during which they had a penalty. Those four second-half penalties cost Texas a 1st & goal at the Cal 7 (ended with missed field goal), a 1st & 10 at the Cal 11 (made field goal), a 3rd & 3 at midfield (punt) and a 2nd & 10 at midfield (punt).

 

Running the ball is great, but acknowledging basic football things like the down and distance and defensive front is, too. 

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Well there we go. The coaches have things under control and nothing needs to be changed. When the backs are averaging 6.6 yds per carry, they need to be throwing the ball.

 

The RPO passes averaged 6.1 yards per attempt. The running backs averaged 6.6 yds per attempt during the game. Barely averaging 6 yds an attempt is miserable passing effectiveness. On those second-half penalties, how many of them were when passing plays were called and the lineman was antsy to get to to their pass blocking assignments? When a team is averaging 6.6 yds per attempt rushing, the defense will gladly give up short passes if it means holding the opponent to 6.1 yds per attempt passing. The defense would prefer the other team choose the RPO with a 6.1 yds per attempt average over a 6.6 yd per attempt running game. Hence, the RPO strategy was playing into Sonny Dykes' defensive strategy. With Buschele hurt and Swoopes unable to pass, worrying less about the long ball and containing the UT offense was all they needed to do. Since the Horns were unable to break a long pass play due to Buschele's injury, the only was the UT offense could gash Cal with a long play was to run the ball repeatedly and wear down the Cal defense. But the Texas coaching staff wouldn't make the necessary in-game adjustment because Charlie Strong is a horrible game manager.

 

The reality is that Buschele was hurt, Swoopes can't pass, the backs were averaging 6.6 yds per attempt and the defense needed to be kept off the field because the secondary sucks.

 

With those four glaring facts, the coaching staff couldn't make a in-game adjustment to deal with the situation. The offense basically said "F@#k it defense, we are doing our part and aren't even going to try to adjust to try to win the game." And the team lost.

 

Teams with a lot of penalties are pretty much undisciplined and poorly coached teams. Teams that can't adjust the overall strategy in-game to account for injuries to key players or to account for the fact the opponent is massively exploiting an identified weakness are poorly coached teams.

 

The team was not properly prepared for the Cal game. The coaches failed to make necessary in-game adjustments. Players failed to execute. It was an ugly mess that was pretty much unwatchable for stretches, a hallmark of the team under Charlie Strong's leadership.

 

Going into the Cal game, the team was pretty much in the same position as it was after last year's OU game in that the team had shown it could win, but needed to now show it could win consistently. Keep in mind Charlie's longest winning streak during any given season is a whopping two games. The loss to Cal snapped his longest winning streak of three games, dating back to the last game of the 2015 season.

 

Charlie hasn't been able to take the team to the next step after showing it can win. Getting up for one game is important. So is mastering the need to focus on every play, every series, every game - game in and game out. In other words, Coach Strong needs to be able to coach the team through the grind of an entire season, including a full conference schedule of P5 opponents.

 

This is where Charlie Strong is in over his head. I have lost faith that Charlie is the right guy to lead the program because Charlie lacks the critical ability to win consistently, especially when winning consistently means winning games against weaker opponents. Charlie coaches the team to a big win and then doesn't know what to do next. Accordingly, the team comes out and lays an egg against a team it should have readily dispatched.

 

You analysis is interesting, but lacks some important info, such as whether there were pass plays or running plays called when the penalties were a factor. It also lacks consideration of what plays would have been called if the team was pursuing a run-heavy strategy as opposed to their basic strategy.

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All good thoughts. I think the criticism of Charlie is a bit over the top, but only a bit. Charlie has recruited better players and as they are working their way into the lineup I think the criticism of in-game adjustments by the coordinators is fair. We know that Bedford and Gilbert need to adapt more effectively. It is a priority that Charlie gives his coordinators the proper tools and motivation to get this done. Now that the problems have been identified, if this continues to happen it will be on Charlie.

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All good thoughts. I think the criticism of Charlie is a bit over the top, but only a bit. Charlie has recruited better players and as they are working their way into the lineup I think the criticism of in-game adjustments by the coordinators is fair. We know that Bedford and Gilbert need to adapt more effectively. It is a priority that Charlie gives his coordinators the proper tools and motivation to get this done. Now that the problems have been identified, if this continues to happen it will be on Charlie.

My frustration with Charlie is that it takes a sledgehammer between the eyes for him to understand the coordinators are not getting the job done. That level of being unaware is ok when you are coaching a mid-major, but it just doesn't cut it at a school like Texas.

 

Charlie's "deer in the headlights" and "we need to fix this" shtick at his Monday morning press conferences has gotten stale. Top tier coaches well into their third season as the head of the program aren't still trying to figure out how to keep far less talented teams from kicking their program around. Second and third tier coaches are the ones during Monday press conferences trying to both figure out and explain what just happened.

 

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