In an effort to get past the If We're Texas, How Can Our Offense Ever Falter? reasoning I'm encountering (I call it If We Can Go To The Moon reasoning; example: If we can go to the moon, how is that there can still be world hunger?) I wanted to weigh in on why exactly our offense is going to keep struggling until we get healthy and, even if healthy, the imperative of finding a work around for losing Fozzy's production.
I'll write a more traditional preview tomorrow, but the outcome of the KSU game rests on issues bigger than schemes and alignment. You can also read this from a rest-of-season perspective too. Where we go from here rests on two main issues:
Can We Find A Replacement For Fozzy?
There are three levels to that question.
Fozzy was the leader of the offense. He led with attitude, supreme effort, and unselfishness that shamed lower effort teammates and inspired young ones. There's now a vacuum in our offense that freshmen skill players and a young OL are unlikely to fill. I'll expound on this theory on another day, but any Mack Brown team without a few incredibly strong, take-charge player personalities who form their own internal leadership structure and an alternate locker room culture won't meet its ultimate potential. Watching a weekend of Longhorn Network programming only reinforced this idea for me. And I mean this beyond the convention that all teams need player-leaders.
Fozzy was our red zone offense and offensive curveball. The WildFozzy solved numbers and constricted field issues, kept decision-making out of a freshman QB's hands, and Fozzy led us with 9 touchdowns on the year (kickoff returns for a TD are the ultimate red zone solution). 80% of his carries out of this set were essentially off-tackle power runs, so it's doubtful that people like Goodwin or other speedsters are good candidates unless we tweak our entire approach. The player also has to possess unimpeachable ball security, good decision-making, and a willingness to lower their head on someone. Malcolm Brown makes sense, but his status is unknown and who knows if he has a feel for it. Onyegbule? Hills?
The WildFozzy was going to be used to take heat off of Ash down the stretch in regular game situations, convert 3rd and 3s, and serve as a wellspring for some pretty cool gadgets. That was the game plan for Missouri on. With the wind situation in Columbia, you'd have seen entire series run into its teeth out of nothing but WildFozzy. Gone.
When you try to replace a player like Fozzy, its fruitless to look for the same player. No one on this team can match his skill set. He's a unique asset, more valuable than either Brown or Bergeron individually. So we must replace production, not skill - whether that's finding an effective red zone set that has nothing to do with the Wildcat, a tweak to the WC itself, and some other means of taking the heat off of Ash. And do it with very few bullets in the gun.
Will Texas Be Healthy?
After running Brown and Bergeron into the ground in successive weeks while up by five or six touchdowns late, we have two high level backs who may not play at all or will likely be diminished. We're a tight split power running game. Hills is game, but he can't break the arm tackles that this offense demands. The drop off then, is not just three good RBs to an average one - it's about losing our entire run game identity and our use of speed and play action off of it. DJ Monroe isn't a 175 pound solution either. Cody lacks dynamism, hasn't been repping, and has developed into a good FB so you're robbing Peter to pay Paul. No real solutions here. Without Brown/Bergeron/Fozzy, we're aspiring to be a completely average running team and putting all hopes on the weakest part of the offense - the passing game. We can talk all we want about the solidity of materials on the 12th floor - it means nothing when you dynamite the building supports.
Jaxon Shipley's loss is also a killer. We had three receiving threats that defensive coordinators needed to account for: Whittaker out of the backfield, Jordan Shipley, Mike Davis. The basic structure of our passing game is run the ball, hit Davis deep, Shipley working underneath that, and Whittaker as a blitz buster and outlet. Without 2 of those 3 players, it's a bottom 20% of FBS passing game. Without a running game, it's worse.
Keenan Robinson is our most replaceable injured starter. Steve Edmond may even be a desirable replacement against KSU because he can thump. He just needs to not be mesmerized by KSU's complexity. Jordan Hicks can fill in too, though I've lost some confidence in him. Particularly against this kind of offense.
There is no simple passing game solution without enough viable receiving threats, a run game to set it up, starting a freshman QB, and throwing behind a shaky pass blocking OL. We can spout all the platitudes we like about what we'd do in the short passing game, but the notion that a defense would respect it is utter fantasy - that's football played on a cocktail napkin pretending our O's threaten their Xs and assumes their opposing defensive coordinator is a drooling idiot.
Can we completely reconfigure our entire fragile identity in a week?
Probably not. This game - and all the rest - are premised on pure health issues (or some spectacular defensive performances for the ages). And with Fozzy's loss for the season confirmed, losing that piece of offense and leadership, if not overcome by personnel or scheme, will sink us in a couple of these games even if Brown, Bergeron, Shipley are 100%.