Before we all turn our attention exclusively to what the new Texas Offense does on the field, let's dip one last time into the blue waters of Boise State. We've discussed play design, architecture, and strategic goals, but for this last preview I wanted to focus a bit on Bryan Harsin the playcaller. After watching more than my fair share of Boise State film, the two things that stand out most about Harsin's playcalling is his responsiveness to his own team and his awareness of how his team looks to the opposition.
I'm going to focus on a few key series from the Oregon State game that Boise played. If you explore their adjusted defensive stats from last season (Huckleberry, you regressive mantis) then you will see that they had a top 30 defense roughly comparable to Oklahoma's last year. In particular, they were very strong up front on defense and were great at getting in the backfield. The reason I chose this game is that we get to see how Harsin responds and adjusts when his offense doesn't have everything clicking. Early in this game Boise State's running game was struggling against Oregon State physically and schematically. Oregon State played a true nose and they were run blitzing and stunting in the front to try to take away angles from Boise State's offensive line.
Apparently, Harsin doesn't subscribe to the "bang your head against the wall until it bleeds" redzone playcalling strategy. Even though there is a success there for the offense, there's also a disturbing underlying current. Over the course of the game, if Harsin doesn't find a way to get more from the run game the offense is not going to be very productive.
Not a good situation for a running game that is struggling. Boise State repeatedly shot itself in the foot in this game with special teams miscues and penalties. And although that was very uncharacteristic for Boise State in general, this is when a team needs their coordinators the most… when they are in the thick of it and they are not winning all the battles or executing particularly well. But everyone knows that if your offensive line is not winning the physical battle up front, you aren't going to be able to run the ball, right?
Sorry for the audio getting cut a little short at the end there. I'm working on a time budget and I didn't have time to go back and re-record much. Also, it's probably open for discussion about whether the OSU defense is in Cover 1 or Cover 0 in that last play… alignment tells me Cover 1 but the safety's lack of awareness makes it hard to believe. Additionally, I mentioned it in the clip but if you go back and watch that again the only battles that Boise State physically wins are double teams. The rest of the success lies in the linemen being put in situations where the aggressiveness from the front actually helps them complete their assignments and/or the backs are getting plenty of space to work with. Penetrating players in the front are transformed into out of position defenders. That is the beauty of really understanding the purpose of the concepts in your playbook and which plays are situationally appropriate.
When we started this series, my hope was that we'd be able to cover enough ground that we'd have a good basis for what to look for in our new offensive identity. Ambitious, perhaps overly so. At times we have tried to delve into fine detail and others we've strived to pan out wide and develop a feel for pattern. We've ranged from the frustration of a single defender to the perplexity of the entire defense. And while I think we've all picked up on plenty to look for as the offense takes its first fledgling steps, I also think we've left many ideas unexplored.
If I were going to give a one-paragraph brief of this offense to someone it might read something like this:
The offense is based on each play consisting of simple, separable parts: each part is a codified advantage in numbers, leverage, or field for the offense. Once mastered by the offensive units, these ideas can be quickly combined which allows the offense to install a dizzying array of plays but still maintain the beneficial effects of specialization. The offense is best thought of in 3 basic modes of operation: Power, Spread, and Special. The Power and Spread are both base concepts with the Power being a primary tendency for first downs and red zone and the Spread tending toward second downs and hurry up offense. The base offenses provide a complete philosophical set of ideas and constraints designed to give the offense everything it needs to survive. The Special packages are designed to apply additional pressure on the defense and ensure that they will not be able to adequately prepare for the entire playbook. Special concepts can be integrated into either base offense: for instance the Triangle Screen which is a field & numbers concept may be used in conjunction with a power concept in 11 personnel, or it could be used in a spread framework like one back or empty set. So it could be paired with a concept like the Power O or with a concept like a Jailbreak Screen. Finally, the offense will utilize motion in all it's concepts to aid in the diagnosis of the defense, apply permitter pressure with speed, force defensive players to play in alignments that aren't their primary comfort, and gain last second numbers & leverage advantages. Overall, the offensive philosophy is to be physically and mentally specialized to maximize understanding of the offense but to introduce diversity and confusion to the defense to maximize the opportunity for mistakes from the defense and make offensive assignments easier to consistently execute.
The main goal for the Texas offense this season is to master the execution and understanding of modular concepts of this offense and be able to transition from one to another fluidly. Once they do that, their focus can shift exclusively to understanding the opponent and the effectiveness of the offense comes down to diagnosis and prescription. What I am looking for in this first outing is basic unit execution and understanding: Does the offensive line execute pin blocks effectively on the flex play? Do our TEs, H-Bs, FBs, and WRs have their shift alignments down? Do we have timing in a few of our key base plays? Do our WRs understand how to sell an route first and then transition into run blocking? Are we to a point of understanding at QB where we can audible appropriately?
Remember that this may be an offense that starts out rough because the parts of a play are not all working together yet and the glue players (QB, H-Bs, FBs, and TEs) are attempting this offense for the first time live. However, once we get good execution in a few bases plays going, things are going to start to come together quickly because of the piecemeal approach that the offense is based on. All of the basic philosophical ideas that I touched on above are themes that I expect to see in the Texas Offense.
Personality wise, I think there are some significant differences between us and Boise State: mainly relating to the offensive line and QB. Boise State's offensive line didn't impose it's will on teams in the run game as is generally espoused. Instead they blocked smart by using their positioning to avoid getting beat 1-on-1 and used combos and double teams when they needed to physically drive a defender. Texas is more physically advantaged and my instinct is that we have a chance to be a much better run blocking line that they were last year. The key cog is that we need savvy blocking from the extra blockers in the run game (which we sorely lacked last season). The other big difference is obviously at QB. Kellen Moore is well versed in this offense and he plays football with absolutely no fear. With him at the helm, every player on offense knows that they are eventually going to get the better of the defense it's just a matter of when. Texas doesn't have that fearlessness at QB but they can start to develop that culture of certainty, it just needs to be through the running game first.
That's my take. It's speculative and based on a lot less observation of our actual offense that I would wish, but you take what you can get. The good news is that tomorrow we finally get something that isn't speculative and hopefully we'll be able to discuss what we are seeing in finer detail than we would have without the studious offseason. We've laid the groundwork for a good dialog throughout the season. Hope you've enjoyed the series as much as I've enjoyed getting to know the Boise State offense. I also wish I had enough time this offseason to go into more depth on defense, but it just wasn't possible. I will definitely try to incorporate more defense throughout the season as well.