At the risk of some Call of Cthulhu-style sanity loss, I’ve put together some formational cut-ups of the Longhorn offense versus the Pokes this past Saturday. Whether this is because I love you or because I hate you, you’ll have to determine for yourselves.
But it’s clear that I’m working through some pretty significant self-loathing.
The biggest surprise for me on breaking this one down was how poorly Texas showed out of 10 personnel when they aligned in Trips. Some of that was happenstance - of all Texas’ 3x1/2x2 detached formations, this is the one that saw them most frequently besieged by T-E twists that bamboozled the Kerstetter-Cuney right side. A 34-yard loss on a sack/fumble/mad scramble recovery doesn’t do much for your per-play average.
A little of it was personnel, though this alignment wasn’t as victimized by the Leonard/Joe fascination and Devin Duvernay mis-casting as some other looks.
But a good piece of it was simple deficiency of design. Of the wide array of pass route concepts that have made the Trips alignment a deadly component of college and pro passing games over the past 30 some-odd years, Texas appears to employ...none of them. Coupled with a refusal to employ a Sulphur Springs High School-caliber effort to design a functional 10 personnel ground game, it becomes an extremely easy look to defend. Aside from bubble screens (some of which we bother to actually attach to run schemes,) swing screens to the back and frantic scramble throws to the sideline...there’s not a lot of there there in the air attack. And the ground game was sparse - Texas ran a couple of Inside Zones with Lil’Jordan Humphrey aligned in an H-back look (going 1 for 2 on successful conversions) alongside one Toneil Carter Inside Zone maybe-an-RPO thing that should have been thrown. No draws to unpin the ears of their right defensive end once he started massacring Okafor, no simple G-lead plays out of 10 as a change-up, no jet game...just a shoulder shrug.
10P Trips Passing Numbers:
Net Yards: -16
Successful Plays*: 2
When Texas runs a Twins look to the boundary out of 10 personnel, though, things look a little better. The numbers are obviously inflated by John Burt’s 90-yard hitch-and-run-and-run-some-more, but getting a couple of playmakers singled up for easy throws with room to work can tend to yield positive results. This package was far from optimized itself - the Collin Johnson + Lil’Jordan Humphrey boundary combo that ripped the guts out of Kansas State’s defense got a smooth three reps on Saturday (one of which was burned on an awkward rollout timing throw to Duvernay while another was Cuney’d) and we had a lot more respect for Dorian Leonard’s ability to run off DB’s than did...the Oklahoma State DB’s.
10P Boundary Twins Passing Numbers:
Net Yards: 114 (Including Scramble)
Successful Plays: 4 (Including Scramble)
Penalties: 1 for -10 (Holding, Cuney)
When Texas ran out of 10 personnel Twins...it wasn’t much worse than anything else. The Longhorns’ only TD of the day came on a hurry-up, beat-the-review run with Lil’Jordan Humphrey as an H-back to the boundary - Humphrey’s seal and slide looked similar to Brewer’s work, while his work in the passing game...doesn’t. They tried one Power/Inverted Read run to Jerrod Heard out of a split backfield, but it was a clear Keep read that got given.
The for better or for worse, til’ death-of-the-2017-season-and/or-the-QB do us part marriage between the Longhorn offense and 11 personnel rolled on this Saturday, emerging stronger after couples counseling following the shameless flirtation with
sanity 10 personnel against K-State. When Texas attacked an eminently beatable OSU front with angle advantage and man/gap blocking...well, they didn’t do that, literally pulling linemen more frequently on play action than on actual runs. When Texas attacked an eminently beatable OSU front with some simple, straight-ahead Inside Zone runs with Brewer leading on the edge and Ehlinger serving as a constraint on crashes...things were better!
When they did most anything else...things were worse.
The zone/stretch run game was a wildly predictable fiasco in every flavor. The running back variant managed five yards on five carries with nary a successful play, while the QB Lead Sweep netted a smooth six yards on five tries including one first down...and what might have been the last Sam Ehlinger carry for a few weeks.
The Inside Zone game worked reasonably well, especially since Texas found that an unbalanced alignment with the TE and trips all to one side of the field usually kept at least one extra OSU defender high and out of the play. Cade Brewer should be redshirting right now, but he’s a willing blocker who can at least log guys down the line when they want to crash inside and lay licks (of varying quality, but still licks) on linebackers when he leads. The play is still vulnerable to an athletic edge defender playing both Warren and Ehlinger when he’s unblocked (such is the price of a burst-deficient backfield combo,) but Ehlinger is a pretty good decision-maker at the mesh point and we saw Warren get his coveted head o’ steam on this look several times.
As to the passing game...ugh.
If you’re not going to find anything creative and effective to do with three detached receivers, you probably won’t find a ton with two. But if you’re going to have defenders crashing your (easily ID’d) alignment tendencies in the run game (watch those safeties fly downhill against our QB Stretch again) then you have to make them pay with play action if you’re going to remotely get your money’s worth out of aligning with a tight end attached to the formation.
Unfortunately, our play-action game out of 11 is akin to starting an impromptu Three Card Monte game in a meeting with your loan officer. It’s not set up well, it’s unlikely to fool the intended target and it’s probably going to cost someone their house in Westlake if it goes on in the same vein. We appear to consistently hope that the nickel is going to sprint inside at first motion to reward us with a free six-yard pivot route, or that the field corner is going to absolutely lose his mind and abandon his deep responsibility to attack a putative stretch run that would never make it outside the numbers if it was handed off.
Seam to the tight end over those hard-charging linebackers? Nope.
Pull-up pop pass on one of our interminable stretch runs? Nope.
Skinny post to get inside leverage on a corner and over a Quarters safety who cheats up? Nope.
Drag route from the boundary to get behind the linebackers? Kinda, but we allow Leonard to JOG this route with no playing time repercussions and try to hit it wildly late with a cross-body throw on the run.
That ain’t gonna get it done.
The red zone passing game might have out-befuddled the play action approach as we continually let the defense off the hook with sub-optimal personnel deployment and then compounded our error with attention-drawing motion screens behind poor blocking and repeatedly asking our freshman QB to shoot at miniscule windows while rolling out to his off hand.
Sam was able to consistently hit or come close to sideline comeback routes because he’s got a live arm and throws well on the move, and the bubble screen/swing game had some nice moments despite up-and-down blocking out wide. But if that’s the apex of your pass-game architecture out of 2x1 or 3x1 looks then you’ve got real problems on your hands. Comebacks and screens are nice ingredients, but the only time the passing game really feels functional is when it works the two-man game to the boundary.
It’s time for Tom Herman, Tim Beck and anyone else in the offensive meeting room to have some honest conversations about what we can and cannot do - not what we want to do with an idealized roster in 2019, what we CAN DO TODAY - out of certain formations and with certain personnel. Ditch the grab-bag approach to both personnel substitutions and play calling, stop running downhill QB and RB personnel laterally and start scheming success for your best eleven guys.
*Defined as a play that gains 50% or more of the yards to gain on 1st down, 60+% of the yards to gain on 2nd down or successfully converts on 3rd or 4th down.