And we're back.
Personally I've been navigating a move within Austin, an engagement to the future Mrs. Nickel Rover, and the end of my laptop's pathetic life. Mack has been similarly busy as we are now replacing virtually the entire staff and have few of the same faces that we saw on the sidelines in the 2009 National Title game, much less the 2005 Championship victory.
There are a few major strategic trends in Mack's new coordinators, first and foremost being age, and then multiplicity. I was excited about a Muschamp regime here when reports from our buddy JS seemed to indicate that he wanted to emphasize a youthful staff. Since I suspect that coaching is very much a young man's game I was strongly supportive of initiating the Muschamp regime and pushing old Mack out the door.
Instead, we see Mack hire two more up-and-comers while Muschamp brings the fat man in to feed them pudding down in Gainesville. I feel much more confident in Mack's offensive hire than I do William's.
While I maintain that a spread offense run by a dual-threat quarterback is the simplest way to routinely have championship caliber squads, if you aren't going to follow that formula than you can do worse than the Boise System.
Vince Young/Colt McCoy ran catch-all offenses, even if you could stop the zone-read running game or short passing attack there was no defense for their improvisation and you often had to make yourself very vulnerable to whatever constraint plays Texas may have installed. Simple, yet effective. Canning Greg Davis was, of course, the only decision to be made and he certainly overdid it with his simplicity. A running game of more than 2 effective plays and some game-planning would not have disrupted the simple formula illustrated above...but I digress.
Harsin's approach is far different. Multiple formations and attacks for different defenses. Simple reads, simple motion but great diversity in where you attack. Rather than having catch-all schemes to execute against several defenses, ala Remember the Titans Novocain-Veer option, we're going to see Texas have a different plan for whatever they see. There has been some talk out there criticizing Davis' "take what they give you" approach. Well that is going to remain a core principle here, the difference will be fewer 3rd and Long situations and Harsin manipulating the defense into giving us the game. I'm sure we can all think of one annual game in which it would be nice if our opponent couldn't diagnose our plays within a nanosecond.
By now we've probably all read and re-read the SmartFootball post on the Boise St. scheme which is a far greater resource for understanding what they do than the yahoo piece about his genius for trick plays.
For Peterson and Harsin, trick plays are constraint plays with explosive potential on the field, and a useful means of engaging young men off the field. The reason they've worked for the Broncos is because the underlying base concepts are effective. They run boring off-tackle and popular 4 Verticals plays with slight variations and misdirection and bleed you for yards before they unleash the tricks and their play-action which eliminates the need for 5* OT talent to create time.
What's impressive about their philosophy with trick plays and multiplicity is that, like Muschamp, it allows them to have an offense of packages. Have a talented receiver who can run a few dangerous routes? If you are Harsin you plug him into formations that utilize those routes. If you are Greg Davis you wait until he has mastered all of his reads and/or is a senior. The talented upperclassmen who can be trusted with handling more tasks will take on the heavy lifting while young stars are eased into roles and still able to have an impact on games.
If the opponent relies a lot on base defense they are forced to install a great deal of offensive possibilities to their 11 men while Harsin can ask many of his players to only be able to execute a few of those concepts at a high level.
My concerns for this new era of Offensive Multiplicity are as follows:
1). TE/HB: We pinned most of our preseason hopes on Barrett Matthews filling that role and Greg Smith not blowing it too often. Neither of those hopes were invested wisely, although I do wonder what Matthews could have done with more receptions and not catching the ball at a stand still in big moments.
Much of the complexity of Harsin's offense comes from motion by the Tight Ends, which is what we had practiced in the spring and fall only to abandon for the regular season. Dominique Jones, Matthews, Graham, Irby if he can play, and Chris Whaley are all going to see a lot of opportunity to perform in this role, as well Bergeron whenever he's ready.
Since Harsin will use 4-wide formations in addition he probably won't ask much of these guys other than to be competent in motion and strong blockers. Unfortunately, these guys were mostly all recruited to fit into the 11 personnel Greg Davis offense where blocking was an afterthought. Molding what is available here into double-teaming machines for a power running game is one of the more crucial tasks facing the new staff.
2). OL: We have followed no guide in determining which of the State's best lineman to take other than quick feet against the pass-rush which yielded a pretty pedestrian season of tackle play last season. Replacing the Mad Dog routine with a S&C program that produces flexible and aggressive lineman rather than hefty guys that won't be accused of testosterone injections should be tremendous dividends but I'm not sure exactly what to suspect next year.
The strength of the line is in David Snow and Mason Walters, but Harsin's favored methods of power-running will require some competency from the TE's. Our skill player talent is probably strongest in Darius White, Mike Davis and Jaxson Shipley but it would be hard to trust Paden Kelly and Trey Hopkins to hold up for 30-40 passes a game. Catch-22. Davis couldn't handle it, Harsin will actually try though so that's a start.
Boise uses lighter and quicker lineman who are provided favorable blocking angles to compensate for being unable to bench press 500 pounds. You can stonewall a pass rush with a Jonathan Ogden or with a run game, play action and screens. Once we've reversed the policy of trying to build 5 Jonathan Ogdens things will proceed more smoothly. In the meantime hope that Snow and Walters can lead an eager young group to learn fast.
3). Gilbert's confidence: Garrett Gilbert has more talent than any QB that Boise St. has fielded in the last decade, but he needs some major coaching and it needs to be done in a way that restores his confidence. Ideally he would put in long hours like Colt did after his difficult sophomore season and add the muscle, mechanics, and report necessary to take advantage of our young WR talent. If not, Connor Wood might be more talented than any QB Boise St. has fielded in the last decade...
I feel that anything less than 9 wins for a Texas team recruiting at this level is a tremendous embarassment and would have even expected that Greg Davis could bounce back to that level purely based on the likely improvement from our freshmen and Gilbert. That said, we are bringing about major changes in how we attack defenses that might slow us down initially. Who knows what will happen with competent offense? I've not personally watched a Longhorn squad that wasn't directed by Mack and Davis.
We'll pick up next time with the injection of multiplicity and youth at Defensive Coordinator.