Finding Identity

Thesis:

Last year's Alabama team did not have an offense that struck fear into the hearts of Texas fans. Apart from the OSU games the previous season there were few examples on tape of a team pounding the ball against Muschamp's crew with any meaningful success.

In the actual title game, with a few important exceptions, the Alabama offense did not do much to dispel the faith Austin had developed in Muschamp. What they did do in that game and throughout the season was protect the ball, run clock, and be a group that was hard to shutout. While a few teams were able to limit their success, no one was shutting them out.

Watch Ohio St. in 08 or Bama in 09 and you'll see squads that are built on a particular identity with players all over the field who represent that mentality. They like balance in the sense that they prefer to be able to punish teams that present an 8 man front and attack the line of scrimmage with the pass or throw when they need to, but playing run-first offense is a priority reflected in every position on the 2-deep.

After reading Trips Right's post on physicality and effort, listening to Brock's wisdom, reading from Scipio's post-mortems, or my own review of the tape what really stands out as a general theme is the lack of cohesive identity from the Longhorns offense in play-calling, scheme, and most of all personnel.

This OL is very much a work in progress. You could see on tape the last 2 seasons the emphasis on protection over the development of numerous or effective running schemes. As it stands now I'm surprised, like a moron, by the fairly strong pass-protection paired with the lack of domination in the running game.

While there are no standouts on the line worth scheming around they are a very strong group overall. With play-action it's very rare for Gilbert to face pressure and they also can protect for the quick and intermediate game, assuming some basic fine-tuning like cutting ends on screen passes.

They definitely have the ability to be a run-blocking group should they get any support from the rest of the offense. Malcolm Williams blocks well, and essentially represents everything Texas wants to do in "downhill running" and play-action passing as a blocker and deep threat but the rest of the group doesn't really look the part and they don't seem to grasp the value of the blocking role in the "new" offense.

Texas needs to choose what to feature on offense and they really have the talent to go in several directions. The protection has been strong enough to continue to emphasize the spread and option routes of 2008-09 while the running and play-action have shown a little that could have tremendous worth with a few tweaks.

Either way everyone needs to buy in. We all recall the Quan Cosby block on one of Shipley's TD receptions in 2008, that kind of physicality has been totally lacking on offense and will be the difference in whatever Greg Davis chooses moving ahead.

Teams will employ coverages and strategies that will allow their back 7 to attack Texas' runs or short game and spreading the field won't prevent that if the receivers don't hold the backers away from the central action. Against a Cover-2 or Cover-4 defense if the receivers are providing the kind of blocking effort they have of late they are only removing potentially good blockers in a Power-I formation with a few yards of empty space.

None of that matters now though because DJ Monroe is going to play tailback as the coaches have successfully found someone new to plug into an equation that will always equal 3rd and long until the real problems are fixed. In all seriousness I'm glad that Davis has some kind of plan to utilize the weapons on the roster but what has been put on the field to this point is already more than enough if they were executing anything at a high level.

If you haven't read Scipio's defensive and offensive post-mortems I'm not sure why you frequent this site, Peter Bean has some thought up at BurntOrangenation as well. I agree with PB's frustration with the consistently vanilla goal-line package as well as many of the wrinkles that were introduced only to be easily blown up by Tech's defense. Maybe this was already the case but I'm convinced that OU's early defensive dominance of Davis this decade taught him to avoid using constraint plays, double moves and such things before Red River week in order to "catch" old Stoops off-guard when unveiled against his defense.

The trouble with this of course is that A). It's hard to surprise a team with very basic constraint plays more than once and B). Those plays are often thwarted by very basic execution errors, such as not cutting the 6'5" end on the screen or throwing a pre-halftime shovel pass to rock-hands McGee against a defense loaded with opportunistic All-Americans.

We can only pray that something between last saturday and the next sparks something in the offense to safely avoid another debacle such as this one.

To betray my young age, I was a 6th grader and new to Austin and Texas fandom when that occurred and didn't even see the game. What I did see was a sacked Rome, a city in disbelief, a psyche that was broken. It was, on a much smaller and less important scale, the sort of disbelief and new-found vulnerability the US experienced as a nation on 9/11/01. My science teacher was about ready to cancel class to march down to Bellmont herself and demand an explanation.

This Week in Muschamp:

Where we examine the happier notes of the Muschamp-era Longhorns. The brilliance of this unit is beginning to come to light nationally even if the announcers were completely oblivious during the game to the complete shellacking of a once feared unit.

I wanted to cover here exactly what Muschamp did to ruin the AirRaid schematically and administer a beatdown that has left Lubbock with little to say in answer. (Dedfischer is right on in claiming Whitlock as the true hero for Tech as he was moved around and abused literally every player on the Texas line save for David Snow at some point or another)

Schematically Muschamp didn't do anything crazy in the big picture, they stayed in a 4-2-5 nickel and mostly kept both safeties back and dared Tech to complete 5 yard WR screens all the way down the field. Aaron Williams took a turn with every gimp in the Red Raider skill arsenal while Muschamp rotated guys around on the line mainly going with Jeffcoat and Wilson on the edge with Sam Acho and Randall inside.

Each of these players is something special. Jeffcoat and Jones are both elite edge-rushers while Sam Acho is Muschamp's answer for interior pass-rush and gifted Jones a sack when he split a double team and flushed Potts right into him.

Randall is the Ngata of the conference as he can twist and stunt like a good 3-tech or handle a double team as a nose-tackle. Between him and All-Conference Keenan Robinson there isn't a lot available in the running game on a down-to-down basis.

I see a future for all of these linemen in the NFL. Besides their individual pass-rushing skills and functional strength, their lateral movement and stunting abilities made some very basic schemes by Muschamp into unfathomable horrors. Many of his zone-blitzes or more complicated stunts are surely still in his back pocket for Martinez and Landry Jones in coming weeks, although he probably won't need them then either.

Tech attacked everyone in coverage not named Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown or Curtis Brown, which you should notice doesn't leave a lot of names. Scott hasn't made a lot of noise yet but his physical play and sure-tackling has been very steady, Gideon offers the same thing with a little less speed and a little more awareness.

Acho and Keenan are unfairly quick in coverage and their play paired with the strong tackling by the safeties makes long passing drives against this group nearly impossible.

Peeking ahead:

Nebraska put together a highlight reel for ESPN to play whenever Mel Kiper or Todd McShay get to their segments on Jake Locker's weaknesses before the 2011 draft.

Their tackles aren't really battle tested and I'm not sure they hold up to a power running game with Ingram/Richardson, but no one in this league possesses anything like that combo or that kind of power-running OL. Obviously Texas isn't close and the game is 4 weeks away.

Their safeties, corners and S/LB Peso dude are all monsters in coverage and they are reading patterns like a drunken Jeff Goldblum. What's worse, they took heed of my preseason advice and selected Martinez and the spread-option for their offensive identity. Much like last year's championship Alabama team we just covered, this offense is the kind that can protect the ball and be too difficult to completely shut down, particularly if they are gifted field position or points by the defense.

If you aren't terrified of this looming showdown in Lincoln I'm not sure what Texas team you are watching. They are perfectly designed to take advantage of our every flaw.

Stoops, who would likely be furious at even me positing Nebraska as the bigger game, saw his coordinators lay an egg against an Air Force squad that demonstrated what discipline and identity can do on offense and even did it against OU's defense in Norman.

Without Adrian Taylor healthy, OU's defensive tackles look even more suspect than Nebraska's against the run. They made the interesting choice to employ a 2-4-5 nickel against Air Force's flexbone option with Beal and Alexaner? as stand-up ends in order to make them easier targets for AFA's cut blocks.

Meanwhile Wilson chose to have Landry Jones fling the ball all over the field to their multitude of mediocre targets instead of pounding Air Force's tiny tackles with what is, I'm afraid to say, a pretty decent-looking offensive line.

Like NateHeupel, I can watch this team and quickly identify what their identity on offense should be, their normal allotment of trap and zone plays to Murray and his backups with intermittent screens and play-action to Broyles and maybe another guy from time to time.

Another gameplan by OU of getting stuffed in the running game and scoring 10-14 points with my prescribed strategy is a far better choice than throwing the ball 40 times with Landry Jones and assuring Texas of 10-14 points from defensive touchdowns or easy field position after turnovers.

If the offense progresses at all I think a victory over Oklahoma is likely not necessarily because Texas is a far better team but simply because the matchups aren't there for the Sooners. And because Texas is a far better team, this defense could hearken back to the Sooner 2000 squad that laid waste to college football.

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