The Harsin Offense: Making Complexity a Single-edged Sword

We've heard a lot in the practice reports about how Harsin's strategies include installing a large variety of formations and looks that put too much on tape for opposing coordinators to be able to prepare for in a game week.

Belichick uses this practice at New England on a regular basis and loves to attack with unexpected schemes, in large part because the success of his offenses and defenses involved knowing where the ball is going or should go. He is always looking to attack the certainty of the opponents' highly drilled reactions and introduce confusion.

If you simply consider that defenses are often composed of highly-athletic and frequently less intellectual players, you'll quickly began to realize that introducing complex analysis into their play is going to have positive results.

Here's the rub: How do you introduce complexity without confusing and overloading your own players with information? Belichick has professionals who have fewer limits on practice time and don't need to fill their heads with class materials.

But how can Harsin install spread formations, power formations, option Wildcat plays, and change the variety every week without his own players unable to become proficient in executing anything?

Greg Davis had no idea, and preferred to master a smaller number of very adaptable schemes that could provide answers for multiple situations. He seemed to have little instinct for understanding down and distance.

Amongst a dozen other flaws in Greg's attack plan was the fact that it utterly failed to utilize our 85 scholarship athletes pulled from some of the finest HS football programs in Texas. Harsin's formational complexity, on the other hand, is designed to take advantage of the fact that Player X can do Y and Z well even if he can't master the other three skills that are necessary to fit him into the program.

So a player like DJ Monroe, who is an exceptional athlete and a terror in space, can be utilized in specific packages that don't highlight his failures as a receiver, pass-protector, or route runner.

Many people hear that and say, "So every time Monroe comes in we'll be running one of 3 plays that he can master?" Not exactly. He can be a decoy or key cog in a variety of different plays and packages that highlight him or other players. Between the revamped WildHorn packages, jet sweeps, normal runs, and occasional flares or screens there's too much there to keep track of Monroe's potential deployments. Besides the fact that other personnel will be subbed in and out for their specific roles in some of the same packages. What's more, Monroe won't be the only one with specific packages as it was in the previous regime. Tracking what each player does when he comes into the ballgame will be an informational overload for opposing coaches.

It should be fairly clear that mixing and matching skill personnel to the packages and plays that truly highlight their abilities creates incredible complexity for the defense without overloading the offense. The HarsinWhite offense may feature the option, spread pass plays and power runs but Monroe is only practiced in a limited number of those plays.

Here's where you notice the potential hang-up. The offensive line, quarterback, and TE/HB guys still have a lot on their plate in making things happen for different skill player packages.

It appears that we'll avoid putting all that weight on a single quarterback by featuring Gilbert but subbing in Ash for his own packages and then whomever is taking the snaps in the WildHorn formations. If you're Bob Stoops and Brent Venables that's 3 different offenses you are trying to prepare your defense to master after an era of 12 years in which you knew every route and tendency of the Texas machine.

As those quarterbacks develop we can install more in each player's playbook as we will for the skill players when their comfort level in the schemes grows. Essentially we are employing Muschamp's situational package defense on offense. Young players are introduced within limited roles and then as they mature and develop their assignments are increased.

There is one exception. It's key that our pass-catching TE's like Grant and Terrell are also functional with blocking because they are the primary key for a defense in what we are running. If we sub out the receiving specialists for the better blockers we are either handicapping our passing game or we are running. Keep an eye on recruiting in this department as our staff will be searching much harder for the Joe Bergeron's of the world and perhaps even trying to develop people like Shead at positions other than what they played in high school.

Within the HarsinWhite offense it's an easier sell to a 3 star running back to come to Texas and see the field immediately as a halfback as opposed to the Davis offense in which A). that position didn't exist and B). they weren't seeing the field until they could master the multitude of assignments a given position would present.

The final piece of the puzzle is the offensive line, which has to master all the protections and running schemes of the different packages. The Power-O alone is a extensive base run package that requires practice reps and commitment if you want to build your offense around it.

We also have the zone running game, counter-trey (hopefully), and the various running schemes of the WildHorn option game.

In mastering these schemes we have several factors working for our lineman. First is that the major skill set required of an OL to handle zone-blocking and the Power/Counter is having the athleticism and feet to get from point A to point B. The interior OL is going to be reaching still (sorry fans) on half these plays but the other half will feature down-blocking and using traps to seal off backside threats.

The starting lineup of Allen-Snow-Espinosa-Walters-Hopkins is as athletic a line as we've had in the Mack Brown era with a chance to be as dominant in a few years as the 2004-2006 unit and while Searels may not have a ton of depth he at least has players who can athletically do what is asked of them.

Another helpful factor is that the Wildcat game also makes use of the Power-O, the zone-read (which is blocked exactly like inside-zone), and the counter, etc. While the personnel threats can change from package to package, the OL is executing the same blocks.

If you've payed much attention to what Gus Malzahn has been doing at Auburn, or what Chip Kelly features at Oregon, you'll know that the blocking schemes stay simple despite the complex motions, options and personnel changes that are introduced from snap to snap. Harsin will do the same here, and transform four base run schemes into scores of different plays that can be installed quickly for the OL.

We'll still need to become more competent in zone-blocking, which is a rep-intensive scheme that requires commitment, as well as master the power schemes that we've used very sporadically in the past. However, the diversity and the confusion caused by the different looks and the strong balance will do our OL a lot of favors when the DL and Linebackers can't take off to the right gaps without a thought.

Sleep easy, Stoops.

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