You may have noticed that the Texas offense is...not good. If you were worried about Shawn Watson before the season, this may be an affirmation of those suspicions. I've had my own weak moments, but keep returning to a limited data set on a short graph where confounding variables are populated like bacteria on an Okie's electronic monitoring genital cuff.
Before the season, the offensive players I considered most valuable to the Texas offense were David Ash, Dominic Espinosa, Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison. Probably not a controversial opinion unless you're a subscriber to the RB personality cult. They were valuable as much for their individual talent at key positions as for what the replacement level talent behind them could offer. Losing someone like Kendall Sanders wasn't crippling because there were other players who can approximate a good bit of his value. The players behind the offense's four most important starters had no such approximation. The drop-offs were severe - not only in individual talent, but in what it meant to larger offensive consistency, competency and flexibility. Their replacements weren't ready for prime-time. Or a late night Ecuadorian infomercial.
Further, our best offensive ceiling - the wild cards that could offer break-out, big play power? - Daje Johnson and Montrel Meander - also gone. Kendall Sanders and Joe Bergeron were important role players, insurance policies that offered offensive diversity. See ya.
Once the smoke cleared, we were left with an offense robbed of both floor and ceiling. That's a tough combo. These aren't setbacks that our coaches can coach through with a little adjustment or can be wished away with a platitude of "Everyone has injuries!" It's a systematic devastation of an offense that had a thin veneer of talent and experience where talent and experience matters most. This was a cosmic sniper with a contract out on the Longhorns. Demolition set on the support structures and a wrecking ball through the penthouse. Our offensive staff had inherited an interesting old landlord-neglected building with possibilities and some character and, by late August, were left with a squatter's camp set in the rubble.
Interestingly, many fans and media (not picking on Howe, his piece represents the best argument that the coaches should be doing more and fan uncertainty - cherry picking the worst would be easier) have focused on the approximations and correlations that generally correspond to deficient coaching when assessing this disaster: delay of game penalties, burned timeouts, offsides calls, poor snaps, red zone screw-ups, clock management issues, substitutions that aren't to their liking, holding calls on key downs, a lack of adjustments, bone-headed turnovers and poor offensive diversity.
Correlation is not causation. And it's not as if the key precipitating event - the devastation of the offense and what their replacements should mean - is unknown to us. Occam's Razor offer a simpler explanation: these are the shoddy results when players that should be on the sideline start and are still learning the basics of the game, a brand new position, a new offense, lack skill or ability and are learning how to conduct themselves in a new program culture.
I'm still agnostic on Watson the offensive coordinator and play caller (I'm in on Watson the QB coach), largely because his career offers a lot of interpretations. However, this year is a terrible basis for forming an opinion or seeking to confirm existing biases. What we've seen so far is more instructive about triage priorities than an inability to address our favorite coaching pet peeves. What many see as inattention to detail comes from working backwards from results they don't like instead of forward from a realistic appraisal of options. "Why doesn't he call more touchdown plays?"
This staff is in emergency triage. Prioritizing core demands that they value knowing full well that our inattention to other matters will have consequences.
The coaching demands for this group are many, practice time is small. Too many of our guys need to be taught the game of football and the actual requirements of their positions - stuff that should already be long engrained when their name is on the top of a depth chart. Once you understand that, an offsides penalty on 3rd and 3 from a former 4th string DT turned OT or a project 3rd stringer nicknamed "No Contact At All" makes a lot more sense. You can rail about general accountability, but it's a blowhard criticism, the lowest common denominator of analysis.
Because so many of these errors are roughly correlated to what we associate with "good coaching", "adjustments" and "discipline", it's an easy call out. Even if some of the call-outs - such as the still-cited UCLA "clock issue" tell you that you're not exactly reading the musings of a game theorist. If you've noticed our offense is narrow and inflexible, I'm with you. The better question is: Why? Answering that requires you to work from our real options instead of preferred imaginary preferences.
On offense, this team has near infinite learning demands, a very narrow implementation window, insufficient resources, and unskilled, inexperienced labor. That's hard to overcome in a bake sale, much less a football team. We're playing our Spring game during the regular season.
So we have to work big to small. Or in our case, glaringly huge to medium.
Should we be teaching Swoopes six new route combo reads in two days of full practice targeted at Wildcat zone looks before we play on the road because they run Cover 4 combos that are going to mystify his unstudied 2A QB brain? And if we do, will he be proficient by game time? Is he Peyton Manning? Or the guy we thought might be our TE of the future? How much time should be spent teaching him the basics of his position (which is plainly a work in progress) and consolidating remedial gains? - concepts that most teams are working on with their 3rd string redshirt freshman QB rather than their starter. Those are the real questions.
If you're critiquing our skinny, redundant playbook or repetitive play calls with accompanying proscriptions for how the New England Patriots destroy Cover 4, you're not discussing football. You're playing Gridiron Dungeons & Dragons. It's a fantasy world.
Every bit of time we spend teaching Tyrone to play the position - reinforcing poise, form, basic decision-making by down and distance, how to recognize coverage, how to keep his eyes downfield, learning the signals so he doesn't ask twice and cause delay of game or burn more time outs, is time away from specific opponent game planning. This is all a giant zero sum game until he reaches a baseline level of competency when instruction and game-planning can meld into one. He's not there. Swoopes isn't reading post-curl combo routes proficiently? You don't say.
When OU blows a quarter of their coverages and doesn't account for the QB in the option because of how they play Striker and ISU runs a collective 4.9 40 on defense and still insists on blitzing man coverage, Swoopes can handle that material. When KSU presents new material that may as well be in Mandarin and Tyrone breaks down fundamentally, we're left with dwindling options and our coaches look terrible. They could be.
Of course, a good, experienced OL might help stabilize things. Anyone know how to play center? Joe Wickline has asked that question a lot this year. The heart of our OL is out for the season and young Raulerson got overwhelmed. Doyle - you seem smart. Want to be our center? You did it once when you're 14. See, you're a natural. Do you know how to identify the MLB on every play? No. Well, look at that guy and count numbers to the TE...that tells you how to make our line calls. Let's practice that. Unless it's a shaded nose. Uh, we'll cover that later, maybe. Oh yeah, the defense shifts pre-snap and renders your call incorrect. Sucks, huh? Hey, your stance is wrong. Only two days 'til OU! Try to get in some extra reps with Tyrone - I expect flawless exchanges.
We're supposed to lecture Doyle or our coaches on accountability when he starts snapping to Tyrone's shoelaces or blows a protection against twist pressure? Might he have other things on his mind? LIKE HOW TO PLAY CENTER?
Marcus Hutchins - I know you were an undersized and ignored 3rd string guard switched to 4th string DT by the previous staff hoping you'd transfer out, but we need you to...uh....start at OT for us. Because you have decent feet and try hard. Do you know how to line up? Well. That was a good try. Get a good base. Drop your ass. Oops, you fell over. That's better. Do you know how to kick set from the edge? No? I'll teach you. Once you do five thousand more reps it'll feel natural. FYI, you'll be blocking the best athlete on their DL every week. Good luck.
Did Hutchins jump offsides because he's thinking about a dozen things that no trained OT has to worry about? Did he grab a little cloth because he's overwhelmed? Or is it poor discipline and coaching?
When a patient is admitted bleeding to death in the ER, I'm not fretting much about the dog crap on his shoe, the compound fractured arm, the deep abrasions and road rash all over his body, his ear dangling off of his face and the bloodstains on his nice shirt. The doctor is trying to keep the patient from dying on the table by re-attaching his legs and getting his heart beating. From my comfy armchair, I'm trying to figure out the degree to which the the blood spurting everywhere is bad surgical technique or the depth of the trauma itself. It's messy in there and what we're mistaking for negligence may in fact be appropriate triage. Working big to small.
Yes, I noticed that his ear looks messed up. We all do. I promise. Someone should fix that. And yes, that bloody shirt is messy. Looks awful.
Would you like the doctor try to get that out with a Tide stick or would you like him to keep clamping arteries?