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Let's Build An Offense Part 1: Building A Base

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There is an age old debate on the Longhorn interwebs, ten years old at this point. One man, a renegade, will exclaim dissatisfaction with our offense. Another man, an august guardian, will tell that man that if he is so smart, why don't you do better? Point taken, sir. I can't actually do anything, but I can show you how I would build our 2008 offense, step by step.

I believe in John Wooden's pyramid of success. The concept is simple: the road to competitive success is built upon building blocks, one on top of the other. You can't go to the next level without first mastering the basics. His basics are attitudes, mine are personnel. To wit:

Step 1: Who is your QB? - This is the most important question you can ask yourself. What can you get out of the one person who has the ball in his hands every play? Every offense is defined by its signal caller. I have to decide who to put out there and what to put around him.

What I want (and remember, this is not what I think will happen, or even what should happen. This is all me and my preferences) is maximum flexibility. I want to be able to hit any part of the field at anytime. I want to be able to produce big plays on the ground. Finally, I want to be able to run the football late in games when I have a lead. At Texas, this is a common occurrence, and possibly the single hardest thing to do in the game.

So with that in mind, which QB gives us the best chance at achieving these goals? Colt gives us the edge in big plays through the air (the ones not by design, anyway), and the safety net of the short passing game. Chiles gives us explosiveness in all facets and the unpredictability that is impossible to game plan against. If my goal is to be able to strike big on the ground and run with a lead, Chiles has to be my guy (personal bias towards running QBs alert!). We don't have the precision passing necessary to rely on the short passing game, but hopefully we can get the 5-8 yard gains on the power of Chiles' legs.

Step 2: It's 3rd and 3. What do you do? - Every offense has to specialize in something. If you have an expertise, something you can count on even when the defense is ready for it, then not only do you have something your players are comfortable with to fall back on when the stakes rise, but you can also hit for big plays off of counters for whatever it is you do. For example, when Ricky was here, we hand the ball to him and let him do his thing while Major Applewhite took easy 10-20 yarders over 9 man fronts. When Vince was here, same deal, except better since he was his own running back. Think back to all the bad offenses we've had here, 2000-2002, 2006: these were all offenses that didn't have that safety net. There was nothing those teams did well. As a result, Mack whined about not having identity and we lost to Stanford. Knowing yourself matters.

What about this past season? We started out identity-less, just like last year. On 3rd and 3 we couldn't run, so we'd pass, and let Colt run around until something opened up. Hardly a reliable stratagem. It's wasn't until Colt got hurt against Nebraska (thankfully) that we found ourselves, having to put in Chiles and run the zone read. We went 75 yards in 3 plays and the rest is history. We still lost to A&M because our defense was embarrassingly bad, but the offense was OK. We had an identity, albeit one that we stumbled on thanks to the benevolent injury Gods.

Before last season I was in favor of putting Colt in charge of a Mike Shanahan-style, power zone blocking, short passing offense that took advantage of our experience with the blocking scheme and the strengths of the QB. Now, we kind of have to throw that out because of Chiles being the QB. Running QBs + west coastish offenses don't work. When these running QBs are in high school, there isn't a huge emphasis on quick drops, quick decisions, and accurate throws. When they do throw, it's usually over stacked fronts, and if nothing comes open quickly, they can run around until someone pops open. This is why trying to teach this stuff to a running QB at the pro level rarely works out well.

So as conventional wisdom goes, if you're going to focus on one mode of attack (for us, the run), then you had better have a bunch of ways to attack, or opponents will shut you down regardless of how much more talent you have. This is where the spread option suits us really well. We can:

  • a) continue to use the zone blocking schemes we've used for the last 3-4 years. This speaks for itself. Everyone knows what zone blocking looks like at this point.
  • b) eliminate the obsolete fullback position and replace it with an actual weapon. This is one of the hidden benefits of spreading the option. Used to be if you wanted a dive option, it had to be a big back capable of grinding yardage in between the tackles. Some schools still use a bigger interior option, like A&M and WVU with Javorskie Lane and Owen Schmidt, respectively. It's possible, though, to simply add an option to the zone read, meaning you can run a zone play one way with the option the other way. The zone is designed to naturally expand running holes without committing to one specifically, and if we space our OL out like Missouri or Tech do, then you can create a lot of space for a quicker, speedier back who can actually threaten the defense with big plays.
  • c) to continue to use the quick read screens we've used for years to help keep defenses off our backs. Since we are relying on formations creating space instead of power, you can remove a FB or TE from the formation and split them, creating screening opportunities wide. Don't be fooled, they go into the books as a pass, but whenever we do this it's no more than a run with a WR getting the carry. Now we can quickly strike anywhere along the line of scrimmage (LOS) and get a quick 4-5 yards wherever the defense sleeps on us, or the LB gets a little too aggressive.

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  • d) more easily exploit athletic mismatches in the open field - similar deal to the screen game, since our attack is now based on finding where the defense is softest, we can easily get the ball to our playmakers (if we have any left, that is) in space against one opponent. Break one tackle and big plays await. There will be more examples of this throughout the series.

Step 3: OK, you got your QB . . . now what about everyone else? - For the OL, I'd just let their position coach pick the 5 best. He knows better than I do, probably (for the record, I would go with Allen-McGuasky-Burnette-Huey-Hix. I like talent over experience, generally). Besides, the fun part is picking the skill players.

In our offense, flexibility is the word of the day. Not just individually, but I want to be able to move guys around, and have the ability to do almost anything out of our base personnel sets. This means, for the most part, picking versatile players, so let's focus on what positions we want on the field, in our base set.

When making such important decisions, it's crucial to know what your goal is. For us, it'll be variation in the running game. For Greg Davis, I'm not sure he goes through the process at all. The AAS writes their fluff piece every year about the extensive staff meetings claiming they do, but nothing ever materializes from it. Do you mean to tell me, Austin American Statesman, that Davis and Brown sat down and decided to just put Colt in the same offense Vince ran? And they thought this would work? Good thing for Davis that this isn't a democracy, because Barack Obama would have his job by now.

Anyhow, like I said, the priority for us is good old new option football. This means we need two backs in the backfield, and the way we'll run it, we need two good backs that can both pick up 5 yards through the mess of zone play and get yardage outside on option pitches, etc. We have one guy for sure, in Vondrell McGee. The second will take some conjecture based on very limited knowledge. Here is the depth chart of the other scholarship players at RB:

  • Antwan Cobb - Nah.
  • Chris Ogboy . . . Obgbaya . . . Chris O. - Looked slow to end the season. Used to have at least some burst to turn the corner. Probably not a realistic option, although he is a good pass blocker.
  • Cody Johnson - Maybe. I have no idea how good he is. He would fill the role of the heavy pretty well, should he pan out. He has those soft feet that Henry Melton and Ivan Williams had, so that worries me.
  • Fozzy Whitaker - I like him a lot. Very quick, strong for his size, can really thrive in this type of offense. Was very good in The Last King of Scotland.
  • Jeremy Hills/Tre Newton/Darrell Scott - Hills I like for his speed, Newton is the best receiving threat of the entire group, and Scott would bring a big punch of the offense. Because they are freshman, there is no way to know exactly how good they are just yet. Regardless of what we think of them now, they can't be relied on. Plus Scott may be playing for CU, unless they can't match our offer of being a better situation in every way.

So based on this list, let's just assume that Whitaker is the 2nd back, with Cody Johnson and Chris O. coming in situationally, for power and protection respectively. McGee is almost certainly a tougher runner inside, with his Emmitt Smith-like ability to eke out yardage with his quickness and low center of gravity. So this is what we have so far:

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Scribblings show the start of the base package, a zone read option type deal, color coded for convenience. Black is the zone read half, green the option. The OL was made to have wider splits than normal (it doesn't really show), as well, to open some running lanes inside. McGee defaults to the zone side since he has shown he can operate in tight quarters. Whitaker is a smaller back so some more specific preparations will need to be made for him.

Obviously, we'll have at least two WRs, and for now those two are Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, on account of them being the only ones on the roster who have ever played before. So that leaves us with one position left, and we get to decide between a slot receiver and tight end.

It's doesn't matter which we choose since you can sub so liberally, and it isn't really difficult to install packages for both personnel groupings. But since both packages have advantages, lets take a quick look.

The tight end would almost assuredly be Blaine Irby. He hasn't played much but he looks like a fluid athlete in the same build as our last couple TEs, athletic and slender. Because of his body type I wouldn't want him on the formation blocking ends and stuff, so I'd split him out. In the slot he would be blocking coverage LBs and safeties, giving us an advantage, potentially, based on matchups. LBs who can cover and Ss who can beat good run blocking are pretty rare, especially at places like Baylor and A&M. Irby could potentially be the matchup nightmare than Finely was, although I don't expect him to he quite that good.

Having a third WR gives us another pass option, obviously, and depending on who it is, a much needed deep threat. But there are two problems. One, we have absolutely no clue if any of the reserve WRs are any good, and two, it presents problems run blocking. We could run more WR screens or short passes if they choose to walk a LB out, but if Chiles is our QB, I'd rather always have the option to run than having to rely on the passing game at all.

Also, since our backs are nice and quick, we can motion one into the slot, or even out wide, and not lose much, depending on the skill of the back. Point being, I don't think we lose much from the passing game if we use Irby. Our focus is the run game, too, so having added bulk for run blocking is a big plus. So a split out TE is our 11th player, give us the following base look:

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The main problem we'll have is trying to get guys deep, since we'll have three possession receivers and two RBs. There are ways around that though.

Hopefully this has been somewhat enlightening on the thought process of building an offense, and somewhat enlightening on how badly our staff does it. Offenses have to mesh, with every piece going towards a bigger goal. "Coach" Davis seems to want to fit a bunch of random pieces together and hope for the best. They put more thought into making boy bands than we do our run game.

Coming in Part 2 - Basic plays installed, and counters for the looks defenses would give us.