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Texas on the cutting edge

I was in the Tavern the other night, just hanging out with a good friend, and it turned out to have been the chosen location for an Alabama NIT basketball game viewing. I wasn't totally aware of my surroundings as I mentioned to the friend the recent reports about dirty SEC recruiting and generally disparaged Alabama mocking their losing effort in the NIT. How terrible does your basketball team have to be to even care about losing in the NIT?

At this point it turned out I was overheard, and an Alabama fan turned to me and said, "You a Texas fan." Yes, of course. It's Austin. "I was there when your quarterback cried, er, I mean when he...(he trailed off here, not having completely thought through his sentence. Not clear if he was talking about McCoy or Gilbert)...whatever I was like 20 yards away, watched it happend." Cool, good for you. "Oh also, I was there when you lost to Iowa St...just fyi."

"Who cares?" I responded. Should've invited him to go enjoy his championship at Walmart, the benefits of hindsight. All that to say, SEC fans are largely an unintelligent bunch. The emotions of my life and self-worth are minimally impacted when Texas wins or loses. I was more proud of Colt after the Championship game than I might have been in a victory, seeing him be brave in the face of a tremendous disappointment.

That said, I will of course be at the Spring Game on sunday, taking note of the significant advances in Texas offensive concepts.

Before we proceed it's essential that you have read the smartfootball post on Boise St. and Longhorn Scott's piece where he dissects how Harsin torched Nevada in 2 plays (Disclaimer! Boise St. still lost that game!).

There have been several recent innovations in offensive football geared towards running the football and most of them are taking place at the college level, of course, where innovation rather than conformity is what garners the big bucks.

One is the addition of gaps for the defense to cover, which we are seeing in the pro-style offenses in the NFL and college, Harsin fits into this category. This is done with the addition of a 6th OL and/or halfbacks, wingbacks, and tight ends that are credible blockers and increase the likelihood of creases opening in a defense. When you pair these formations with zone-blocking you make it very likely that there will be a hole for the running back to find behind good blocking.

Harsin adds to this innovation the use of motion and deception to probe the defense for weak spots and then to make up for the lack of 4 and 5 star OL. Much like Tiger Ellison's Run-and-Shoot, many of Harsin packages plays well where it's not initially clear if you are looking at a run or pass. Go read Longhorn Scott's post again and you'll see what I mean.

Based on what we know so far, and I'm sure we'll learn more sunday, here at Texas Harsin is doing this more with the use of all our Flex tight ends we've been hoarding like Dwight Schrute with this year's must have Christmas toy. Malcolm Williams, Darius Terrel, DJ Grant. Flex them out, let them crack back as blockers and you have a recipe for punishing the nickel and anti-spread defenses of the Big 12 with flexible formations that are credible threats in the run and pass game.

Harsin's experience in aiding his linemen with uncertainty and extra gaps will pay big dividends with our weak depth at tackle. Somewhere along the line of scrimmage either our superior guards and center will open something up or our army of edge blockers will make it happen on the perimeter often enough to make our run game threatening, and consequently do the same to the play-action game.

Most important in this is the presence of Darell Wyatt, who has been said to be emphasizing down-field blocking by wide receivers with torrents of screaming and abuse for those who won't. In the last few years our staff has paid lip service to this detail but we haven't seen it since Quan Cosby and it hasn't been a theme for the team since Vince Young was here. As Burnt Orange Wookie once reminded me, check most any highlight reel of Vince Young and you'll see him pointing and directing blockers in the open field.

Failure in this department was one of the underrated factors in our offenses' inability to produce anything last year. Not only were our receivers hardly open or bringing down catches, but they weren't blocking much either. Watch Mack's reaction in the UCLA game or any other when a receiver is called for holding on a downfield block, he has the look of a man awash in credit card debt who's just had a check bounce. "It was hard enough to get them to do this without you penalizing me!" A few of those holding calls were bogus and I'm not sure I've seen Mack angrier, he knew the truth, the wide receivers were a huge failure in the offense last year.

So watch for that sunday, pancakes by flex-tight ends and holes on the edge for our backs.

Elsewhere in the football world it's worth noting that OU has adopted the Holgorsen "Diamond Formation" which resembles the wishbone but is perhaps closer to Harsin's approach in that it affords the Offense multiple gaps to attack with zone runs with the added benefit that the defense has trouble discerning where those gaps will be (because the blockers are in the backfield) and where the ball is heading. They run inside-outside zone and the rest of their normal run package and the players have similar assignments but the play looks far different.

For similar reasons the pistol is becoming one of the greater innovations in football these days, particularly for option teams. You can use the shotgun-3 step drop short passing game, the zone-read stuff (including the veer), or just hand off to a downhill back running inside/outside zone or power and package it with play-action like you would under-center.

Versatility and options, that's the name of the game on offense and defense. Diaz is doing something similar on defense, watch in recruiting as we will emphasize finding more linebacker/safety hybrids, more defensive/end buck guys, DL who can use their hands to stunt, and backers who can blitz. The more a defender can do the easier it is for Diaz to introduce confusion to the offense on whom exactly they will be blocking and where exactly those pass-defenders will be positioned. Confusion equals pressure and poorly-thought out decisions.

Against your Peyton Manning, reasonably experienced college QB, or team that screens well it's a dangerous high-stakes game but that's what you can expect on defense. It'll help tremendously that he's working to fool and confuse an offense that is being trained in how to read the defense and react to their likely manuevers. Mack has assembled a staff of guys who play chess and they're going to sharpen each other every day in practice.

As a response to the run game innovations Diaz's main strategy is 3-deep, 3-under defenses that can get 8 men to the line of scrimmage quickly and the blocking confusion mentioned above that creates possibilities for negative plays. Teams that can't count on busting big runs or passes regularly are inevitably crippled by tackles for loss. This is what Diaz is counting on, leave 3 guys in deep coverage to take away 1-play scores and then gang up on the line of scrimmage and make you beat the defense with intermediate routes or a screen/run breaking past the front.

So Sunday ask these questions in the course of the proceedings:

1). Are we getting WR blocking on the edge?

2). Is the defense tackling well in space? (essential to score prevention in Cover-3 schemes)

3). Is the Quarterback throwing it up for grabs? (tells us a lot about both sides)