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The 18 Wheeler: Here For the Long Haul

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Texas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Longhorn Nation “enjoyed” three solid weeks of sound and fury erupting from the initial report that Tyrone Swoopes was “way, way ahead” in the Texas quarterback competition. Nobody really bought THAT, but there was a little elation and a lot of consternation at the idea of Swoopes executing a major role in the 2016 offense. Old wounds were opened, old mistakes re-hashed, and those prone to panic whiled away the hours worrying that a fundamentally limited QB might take Texas’ season right down the drain.

In the days and hours leading up to game time, the picture resolved itself. Shane Buechele would, as most folks had anticipated from the Spring Game onwards, serve as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback. But both Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert awoved that Swoopes would see action in the season opener, with most of us assuming that it would be business as usual. Stoke the 18-Wheeler’s engine with coal and get ready for a hearty “Choo Choo!” once Texas hit the red zone.

However, Swoopes saw his first Sunday action with Texas backed up at their own twelve following a terrific Notre Dame punt. Plenty of hopeful/encouraging “Swoooooopes!” calls cascaded down as #18 jogged onto the field, but they were mixed with a few quizzical “Oooohhh?”’s as most Longhorn fans had expected to see Tyrone take his snaps inside the opponent’s twenty yard line.

What gives?

Ain’t Nothin’ But A G Thang

It wasn’t immediately clear what Sterlin Gilbert was up to, as the twins-to-the-field alignment that Texas showed made this look less of the pure 18-Wheeler from 2015 and something more akin to a short semi trailer. The mid-field appeal of this look quickly became apparent, though, as the receiver alignment essentially blocked three guys with two by taking the corner, nickel and free safety well away from the box:

You can term Texas’ basic blocking scheme on this play anything from Power to G (guard) Lead to counter action (with the back’s flow to the boundary acting like a counter step to the QB’s eventual dart to the field-side B gap) but the key is a pair of angle-advantaged down blocks for the center and left guard coupled with a pair of pulling/arcing blockers coming to kick out and lead up the gut:

Those down blocks do their job as both Shackelford (orange) and Vahe (blue) have blown their guys completely out of Swoopes’ path...

...which, coupled with Andrew Beck’s sort-of-contact with the Mike linebacker results in Swoopes taking first contact from the strong safety five yards downfield with a head of steam:

Swoopes Sweeps!

The next play saw a similar alignment with Foreman flipped over to the boundary side (the play brought to you already in progress by ABC’s inability to get back to full-field coverage prior to the snap):

Swoopes take the snap and immediately takes off for the boundary behind lead blocks from Blueitt, Beck and D’Onta Foreman:

Beck (orange) and Foreman (blue) stick their blocks...

...and first contact is made well to the good side of the first-down line:

Pulling Out the Pin N’ Pull

Next up it was Foreman’s turn to get into the action as Texas set Beck out on the wing.

Gilbert ran a variant of the Pin n’ Pull (down blocks plus two dudes on the move) concept that Brian Harsin used to make hay during his short stint in Austin:

The key here were the two down blocks made by Vahe and Connor Williams to clear the road (dually highlighted in awesome orange.) Williams beat his man head-up and turned him inside while Vahe drove his man hard enough...

...that he was able to shuck him and climb up to get a bonus pick-off of the Sam linebacker as D’Onta reached the LOS...

...ensuring that first contact took place five yards on the right side of the line.

The Signature: Swoopes In the Power Read

Next up came Swoopes’ chance to execute the run play that was theorized to be a centerpiece of the Swoo’chele Offense:

This was the classic Power Read concept, featuring a runner attacking the edge with Swoopes firing right up the gut behind a pulling guard and a lead block from Andrew Beck.

Connor Williams briefly combo’d the nose tackle before climbing to cut off a linebacker (blue) while Kent Perkins (orange) kicked and sealed the defensive end, ensuring a clean channel...

...for Tyrone to rocket to the second level...

...and roll for fourteen yards as the bodies hit the floor.

Airing and Erring

After absolutely punishing Notre Dame on the ground with this look, it was high time for a play action deep shot. Swoopes obliged the Irish out of the same twins left set with Beck flanked a little further out on the wing.

This was a pure play action shot featuring an eight man protection and only two guys in route. However, the degree of ground-game punishment and the complementary route from Armanti Foreman kept the strong safety at home and ensured a one on one shot to John Burt up the left sideline.

Swoopes had a gloriously clean pocket to throw from...

...but despite Burt beating his man by two yards, the ball beat him by two more yards.

Weirdly, some clown said that Burt was loafing on this play, but a rewatch showed him cook his man off the line and have two full yards on him on a play where Swoopes threw the ball as soon as he was set. If Burt was loafing then he’s been sandbagging all of us and will be smoking Usain Bolt’s records in the 2020 Olympics.

The diversity and complementary nature of the run action available from this package (including some not-depicted running back isolation plays and a couple of other wrinkles) give the 18-Wheeler plenty of viability, but if it’s going to survive as a full-field option we’ll have to see some of those downfield throws connect. One might despair of Swoopes EVER solving his chronic overthrow issue on deep shots, but an optimist might buy into the notion that a secure place in the offense will encourage him to take chances and err on the side of putting the ball where a single-covered wideout has a shot to haul it in.

Another reason for optimism is clear when you look back at the initial defensive alignments that this package prompted. There is a TON of green grass around the slot receiver in most of those shots, and some simple quick RPO screens could eat up a lot of yardage provided John Burt is willing to make some honest efforts as a blocker.

Tyrone’s glorious, winning dive into the end zone was as sweet a redemption moment as anyone could have asked for. But he ain’t done yet - there are a lot more games to win this season, and the 18-Wheeler should play a substantial role in every one of them.

Choo choo!