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The Texas Longhorns Offense…

. . . is good, but hasn't reached it's potential yet. We are getting better every week, but we still have some bumps in the road.

If you'd like to see what a bump free offense looks like, watch a Kansas game. They attack underneath coverage with multiple packages out of multiple formations. They run unique combinations with unique ideas, and do so with a discipline, practiced efficiency. If they fail, it's usually because their best receiver is a fast tight end, their second best WR is a failed QB, and their QB is an uppity wood nymph.

We, on the other hand, run relatively few plays that don't always put teams in the positions we think they will. For instance, here is a route combination we've been using regularly for the last couple years:

This is a simple, basic combo. LBs drop into zone, throw underneath. If they jump teh corss, or cover it man, you throw behind him to the in route. It's a good play that works on the chalkboard. The problem is that, in the practice room, on a whiteboard, those little O's don't fight back when our X's are running around. They do, quite literally, what we tell them to do.

Of course, opposing coaches probably like their jobs. They like those 6 figure paychecks, and they like beating Texas. So they aren't going to play the type of defense we want them to play, because that's how you get rolled by 60. If you remember the 2006 A&M game (and to a lesser extent the '07 version) or the recently played Wyoming game, you saw exactly the type of innovation that will give us such fits (Greg Davis note #1: This innovation is not new. It started matriculating down from the pros in the early 90s. It was brought down to stop offenses exactly like ours. These common, older problems that were presented have been largely solved, yet we haven't taken part in the next wave of offense, aside from our brief foray into the zone read).

Stuff like this (pattern matching) allows a defense to give the minimum amount of attention to crossing and/or shallow routes without giving up too much beyond it. Teams still run traditional zones and we can still score in bunches against them, but the more professional schemes give us fits, because we don't stress them by overloading underneath or taking full advantage of those WR on LB matchups. We do exactly what they were designed to stop.

When the quick outlet routes are taken away, that's when we get into trouble. If the primary route isn't there then Colt has to scramble or try to create or force something. Sometimes it works, sometimes is doesn't, but it's not reliable and can lead to scoreless stretches.

Think about our effective plays in the last couple years. Most come off of broken plays where Colt scrambles, a lot are seam routes against zone defenses, but the big ones are plays where everybody is short. Those still work because you can't double team everyone, and pass rush has no time to make a difference. Last year we did this a lot, this year less so.

One of the best plays we ran last year (and sparingly this season so far) can be found as part of this post. This is a classic pattern that stresses the underneath coverage in a way where something will always be open. The only way to cover everybody soundly is to do it man to man, and there wasn't a LB alive who could stay with Shipley on that out cut, especially with the timing he and McCoy had.

I would think that part of the reason we've seen it less is because of the personnel differences. We can replace the athleticism of a Quan or Ogboyyanaana (I should not have to look it up now that he's gone), but we can't replace the consistency. 200 times Colt McCoy dropped back and decided that his best option was one of those two guys. That's what, 2/3s of the pass offense? Then right before the year, the one other guy Colt trusted was ruled ineligible.

Effective offenses is usually just finding out which pieces you have then fitting them together in a way that benefits everybody. Every week we seem to find a new piece. Shipley is now Quan, Buckner is now Shipley, Newton is a better Obi-Wan, etc. We haven't replaced Brandon Collins yet. I was hopeful that it would be Kirkendoll, and maybe it will be, but he hasn't done anything yet. I feel like the team is one more guy away from really hitting their stride again.

The short game is about trust and execution, which is where you turn when you don't have any big play threats. It's why teams like Tech and Navy do what they do. You have to make the defense play your game. The one downside is that it limits the importance of physcial talent, which is why Malcolm Williams is getting David Aaron'd. He is big and fast but he's running plays that need discipline and timing.

The short game is also purposeful. A statement that says "I am going to get this 7 yards." When you have deeper, layered options, if one is covered, it may be too late to get to another one, especially if the defense has any amount of closing speed. Timing is important in the passing game because it accentuates your advantage in knowing what is going to happen. Once the defense reacts, they'll run to catch up to you. Every moment after the reaction makes the throw harder to make because the window gets smaller as the pass rush gets closer. Short patterns are designed to get the ball out no matter what at the expense of big plays )although proper timing can lead to YAC). The way we do things can lead to missed opportunities underneath because we're waiting for deeper routes that never come free.

Let's take a break and think about what it takes to stop this offense. Closing speed in the back 7, a good pass rush and a defense based on finding tendencies and taking them away. Sound like anybody we know? We're in for a tough game in 2 weeks, I'd say, regardless of record.

There is good news, though. Colt is still the best 3 step passer in the game (Greg Davis note #2: but let's not focus as much on that this year . . . for some reason), and OU's pass rush will almost certainly force us into it. For the last 3 seasons OU has sat back, put only 6 in the box, and dared us to run. We've had success against that for 2 straight games and if Stoops is smart he'll do more to force the issue this year. They can't let us pick them apart again. Our running game is, at this point, functional if not underrated, and I feel we can move the chains against a gambling, impatient back 7. Big plays won't come from playcalls, we'll have to let OU make mistakes for us. The key for this offense is staying on the field long enough to punish that mistake.

This is where that final guy comes in. We have 2 good receivers and 2 good running backs who add something to the passing game (1.5, really, because one of them is never healthy). Teams have been bracketing the WRs and letting everyone else's mediocrity take care of itself. So far it's worked. We need that fourth guy to make plays when everyone else is covered. That Brian Carter type of guy who only has 2-3 catches but each one keeps a drive going. There are 1 on 1s available but between Williams/Kirkendoll/Chiles, nobody seems to be able to convert consistently.

Of course, this is all from two games. Two eerily similar games. UTEP and UL-Shithouse don't count, because our guys get better quality reps in practice. We didn't hit our stride until the 2nd half of the OU game last year. Just like Wyoming, Tech (this year and last), A&M last year . . . hey wait. We seem to hit our stride in the second half every game. I know I'm not the only person to notice this. Why yes, I do have a theory about this.

Greg Davis note #3: We script our openers. We always have. I can't remember what the number is, but I want to say 15. Scripted plays are picked during the week, away from the emotion of battle, based on what you think you can do against the defense based on talent and how they will play you. We routinely get hammered early in games.

We also pick plays that appear that game and no others, and those rarely work as well. This is because when our offensive staff makes educated guesses about what will work and what won't, they are playing a chess game in which the other guy gets a 20 move head start.

Sometimes our pet plays work. 2007 saw several good runs against OU based on plays we never saw again (Greg Davis note #4: We never saw those plays again. What!?). The 2003 home loss to Arkansas saw two out a bunch package that worked all over once in 8-9 tries. The latter is not the outlier, either.

This, in some ironic sense, does make us unpredictable. We are a very consistent team schematically but you never know when our scissors will be met with rock. This is called a Greg Davis special and everybody knows what I'm talking about.

The reason we aren't 5-7 is because we do run out of scripts, eventually and mercifully. In the Wyoming game we started attacking the short flanks to open up the middle, and it worked wonderfully. Against Tech we started running more short patterns. We are not incapable of making adjustments, it's just that they are always late. Like Vince playing in a Simms offense for 2 years, or Colt playing in Vince's for 2.5, it's the timing that matters.

So far nobody's been able move the ball on our defense to put us in a hole. Tech did that last year but couldn't this year. Wyoming never threatened to beyond a special special teams decision.

The odds are is that it is going to happen. We're going to be down 24-7 halfway through at least one second quarter because that's how football goes sometimes. We can still score in bunches if, when it really matters, we go back to what we know works. If we don't, then we'll drop a game. It's probably going to be that simple.

The other possibility is that Newton becomes the starter and Whitaker does as much as his body will let him (McGee is a fine running back but brings little to the passing game. That's too important a role to fill with OK guys). Somebody decides to be that consistent 3rd receiver and off we go. The OL won't be dominant but they know their jobs and can execute whatever the defense gives them. The real key is finding out what that is early and really going after it. Some teams will give us the short stuff, some will gamble and blitz, and if we don't adjust accordingly we'll be vulnerable to a loss.

If we do, we'll waltz to 13-0 and nobody will touch us. We're a good matchup with both UF and Bama so I like the odds there. Just watch for the keys:

1. A CONSISTENT slot receiver.
2. Whoever does play in the backfield should add something to the passing game.
3. If the defense plays back, drive onthem. If they blitz, create big chunks of yardage.
4. Run on 6 men in the box.

Do those 4 things and we're golden. A look at the defense will be coming later in the week.