Greetings, Barkers! Apologies for the tardiness on getting the offensive rewatch piece going. I still had tunnel screen carpal tunnel from the defensive piece, so my original plan was just to write up something quick after zipping through this nifty 17-minute compilation of Texas’ offensive plays (courtesy of the great Luke Carlton):
But as longtime Carnival readers are aware, pith is not precisely in my nature.
Having read a few too many mushy-headed summaries of the game, the imagined issues, 2014-amnesiac recountings of our “three year defensive suckitude” on one hand and dubious dual-decimal false precision grades on irrelevant scales on the other, I decided to just bite the bullet and launch into the semi-insane game charting project that I’d been kicking around for a while now.
The short version (ha!) is that I’m looking to combine a number of charting elements, some advanced stats and player grades along with what scheme info can be discerned from the broadcast view to create something new and hopefully nifty. I’ll try and explain more of that in detail on the fly and layer in some early outputs, but right now this piece has been too long delayed so wanted to at least start getting some stuff out there now. Going to make this a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the offense (updating as I get through each quarter) and then I’ll be trying to go back and do the same for the defense...and then get everything logged for ND and UTEP before we journey to Stoolwater on Saturday next. A couple of requests from Monday’s “You Call It” post have morphed into a big “Here’s where we are and what we can do going forward” deal on both sides of the ball which will be landing next week which has been its own parallel process so...I’ll just shut up now and dive into the first quarter.
One note - definitely love any feedback on this and other stuff around what’s interesting/fun to read/gives you a better sense for what we’re up to and any ideas you have for nifty angles of analysis/data visualizations and anything else. Good ideas on this score can help the ol’ Carnival as well as hopefully have some broader applications that I’ll probably start another thread on next week.
OK, NOW I’ll shut up and dive into the first quarter.
First Quarter - Run Game
The story of the first quarter was a pair of powerful backs taking what they wanted despite Cal frequently attempting to outnumber the run with a single high safety or keeping both safeties within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, aided and abetted by some potent run blocking on the left side.
Both Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman looked sharp to open things, but this was Warren’s quarter and I was worried that he’d be limping after the game as a result of breaking his foot off in Cal’s collective ass. He racked up 49 yards on nine carries in the first quarter, forcing four missed or broken tackles and drawing a 15-yard facemask penalty while gaining more than half his yards after contact and bagging a pair of touchdowns. Foreman only had a pair of totes in the first quarter, but he showed off his trademark vision, acceleration and underrated lateral bounce when he ripped off a ten-yarder on an Inside Zone RPO. Connor Williams was a particularly murderous blocker, racking up a +2.0 grade in the first quarter* along with some nasty wins at the point of attack, and Patrick Vahe also did plenty of straight-head road grading on zone runs.
Scheme-wise, Texas ran Inside Zone, Power and the Pin n’ Pull/Counter play (where the backside G and T pull out to lead) out of the base offense with good success on each. The 18-Wheeler saw Swoopes bag a punishing eight-yard gain behind Pin n’ Pull blocking and managed a couple of other solid gains with Warren taking the ball behind zone blocking.
Texas started at the chains, avoided penalties and stayed ahead of them with the run game. 10 of Texas’ 13 first-quarter runs were Success Runs (defined as a run that gets you more than 45% of the yards to gain on first down, more than 60% of the yards to gain on second down or a successful conversion on third or fourth down.) Despite a passing attack that was as much miss as hit in the first stanza, the Longhorns ended the first quarter with a 17-7 lead on the back of the ground game. Had they avoided miscues in the second half, this ground attack would have been able to grind the Bears into dust and deliver a W.
Here’s a look at Texas’ yards per carry by line of scrimmage gaps in the first quarter, pointing up the damage they were able to do up the gut and running between Williams and Vahe:
First Quarter - Passing Game
The Longhorn passing game operated in fits and starts in the first quarter, completing mostly hitches and screens while narrowly missing on a couple of seam shots to the slots (targeted at Jacorey Warrick and Jerrod Heard.) Cal unveiled the pair of coverages that it would rotate between for the bulk of the game - a loose Cover One/Man Free that let them get an extra safety into the box (not that it was helping much against the run early on) and a Quarters/Cover Four look that again saw the guys over the receivers playing loose/off coverage and then attacking underneath throws aggressively out of their backpedal.
I counted five RPOs and four more straight play action attempts out of eleven first quarter dropbacks, so Texas was certainly leaning on the threat of the run to try and help create space. That worked well on some hitches to Jacorey Warrick and Jake Oliver as well as a bubble screen to John Burt, keeping the linebackers inside and opening up some RAC opportunities. The only time Texas DIDN’T
Buechele was decently sharp early, though he juuuuuuust missed on his two slot shots and had a couple of hitches feel dangerous as defenders drove hard for the ball. Likely the most impactful play of the game came when he took a major impact on a running back screen attempt as Connor Williams’ guy came screaming off the edge on an angle to smack Buechele on a deep backpedal and drive him to the turf, resulting in what’s been reported as a rib issue - the severity of which varies wildly by who you’re listening to. (Williams was largely blameless on the first-quarter sack - he pushed his man well past the pocket, but Cal covered up an attempted fake-the-bubble-and-throw-deep play and the defender caught Boo from behind as he waited for someone to come open.) The impact of the screen hit was rough because...
...Tyrone Swoopes just can’t deliver anything approaching a consistent ball. His first quarter stat line read 2-2 for 24 yards, but that includes a smooth zero yards after the catch because Swoopes threw John Burt into the ground both times. His first ball on an RPO deep slant route would have been six points had the ball been put on the money as the middle of the field was totally vacant after the boundary safety bit up, but it was not to be.
Sadly, Swoopes’ most impactful throw of the game was yet to come. To be continued...
*I’ll go into more detail on this later, promise.