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Chalk Talk: A Grounded Ground Game

NCAA Football: Texas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

You bastards made me do it.

Here’s a look at every run the Longhorns attempted against Iowa State. It ain’t pretty, but in the immortal words of C-3PO, “That’s funny - the damage doesn’t look as bad from out here!”

Things always seem more fixable when you break them down into individual moments and components than when you’re just watching a gimped-up gallimaufry in real time. It won’t be easy, but there are things to build on that can give the Longhorns a nigh-functional run game going forward with either QB under center.

But Good Lord, some of this shit has to go.

Man/Gap Runs and Draws

I counted up fourteen total run calls in this game that featured man/gap blocking or QB draws, inclusive of one holding penalty that wiped out a nice gain. That was against 33 zone run calls - that imbalance given our personnel tells its own strategic story, but we didn’t set the world alight with our gap blocking in this one either. Fortunately, the wrinkles to make our gap plays work should be much easier to implement.

Outside of a pair of late-game QB draws, our most consistent run was a simple G-Lead/G-Power run out of 10 personnel. We had the field stretched wide, and pulling the guard gave us pretty consistent angle advantage when we ran it. We had one so-so gain and two successful runs out of the base concept in the first quarter...and then didn’t see it again until the start of the game’s final drive. We also ran a draw play wrinkle out of the same concept that got us a nice seven-yard gain despite Tristan Nickelson getting beat across his face. A second try in the third quarter saw both tackles working too hard to sell the pass fake, resulting in Nickelson setting soft and getting knocked on his ass while Derek Kerstetter dropped way too deep and gave up a free run inside to the DE.

This call needs to be a staple out of 10 personnel against five- and even six-man boxes. The action on the play makes it easy to run either an RPO read to Collin Johnson on the boundary or a called play-action slant-and-go shot to keep the boundary safety from consistently crashing the party.

We also ran a Power Sweep look out of both 10 and 20 personnel - it gives you the stretch of outside zone while letting you enjoy blocking angles much more favorable to our personnel. Unfortunately we ran it twice with Armanti Foreman as the guy getting the ball, essentially eliminating the chance for a decisive cut up into the crease. He got victimized by a whiffed John Burt crack block on his second attempt, but we are outsmarting ourselves with the consistent use of Foreman as a ball carrier. This should be Toneil Carter’s signature run play, and he had a nice gain called back on a hold by Jake McMillon (who was pretty poor in space in this one) that was totally unnecessary. Carter would have had another nice gain but we threw in the same too-cute-by-half wrinkle that boned us against USC, purposely leaving the DE unblocked and asking the QB (our non-running QB, this time!) to read him.

If we show a baseline understanding of our damned personnel, this should also be a 4-5 times per game call. It will get extra teeth with Sam Ehlinger threatening to keep the ball up the gut on an inverted read.

Finally, we ran a counter play out of 11 personnel with the guard pulling and H-back arcing behind him to lead the runner. This is a so-so fit for Kyle Porter and a horrendous fit for Chris Warren, but those were the guys who saw the ball on both our counter calls. It’s unfortunately a play that can get jacked up by slanting/stunting defenders, but if we give the ball to a back with bounce we can make some real money on the edge with some more reps.

The man/gap game is relatively close to clicking, and that’s without seeing our best overall concept - Pin n’ Pull - a single damned time. If we tilt the balance 60 gap/40 zone as a strategic mandate, we’re already on our way to better things.

Zone Plays

Zone runs just don’t highlight what this team does well, and the play we considered to be our bread-and-butter against Iowa State - an Inside Zone lead play out of 11 personnel - does us no favors schematically or strategically. We are using a try-hard lead blocker in Cade Brewer who has a half-decent win rate against undersized LBs, but who gets neutered in the pass game in an H-back alignment and who isn’t doing near enough to justify taking another wideout off the field.

We got decent push a few times when we remembered to double team at the point of attack and our tackles didn’t get beaten inside, and our lone rushing TD of the game came in the first quarter when a slant helped us wash the ISU d-line down while Brewer made a good adjustment to take on the scraping linebacker. But we’re running this play with no apparent RPO or play action component and it’s severely limiting our upside as the defense can get an effective seven- or even eight-man box while still lining up safeties over both sides of our split-out WRs. RPO slants and swing throws HAVE to be a major component if we’re assigning a blocker to every defensive lineman - if Herman and Beck were going vanilla in this game and saving something, here’s hoping that’s it. It’s even more vital when we run IZ out of 10 personnel - we actually did seem to make some throws out of that look, but each handoff would have been more profitably turned into a swing throw.

We also ran Zone Read out of 11 personnel a couple of times - it’s actually worse doing this against light/spread-out formations since the keep read is all but guaranteed to send Buechele into an unblocked overhang defender rather than getting an eight yard scamper-and-slide, and leaving the DE unblocked precludes any meaningful play action. ZR needs to be an Ehlinger play outside of the most crucial circumstances or Buechele won’t last the season.

Our 12 personnel zone runs from the shadow of our own goalpost were give-up plays, hopefully not to be seen again outside of dire field position circumstances. And even then, let’s run something that gives us a chance of success.

We also ran a little Outside Zone action in more or less pure defiance of our personnel strengths. It “worked” a couple of times when we ran it as a QB lead and assigned a second blocker to help Tristan Nickelson - we can get 3-4 yards on it in exchange for a guaranteed shot on the QB. Not a good trade if we’d like #7 around in any capacity.

When we ran a similar concept out of 21 split-back personnel with an Outside Zone Lead. Despite a dubious block from Chris Warren, it worked OK when we didn’t run it behind Tristan Nickelson and netted a hideous hold when we did. Who would have thought?

I’m not even going to belabor our vile outside zone reverse fandango behind Nickelson when we were actually mixing run and pass well and gaining momentum. Let’s just never, ever see that shit again.

The Bottom Line

In wasn’t pretty. But we come out of this game with a decent list of good ideas, bad ideas and outright fireable offenses for orchestrating a ground game with Shane Buechele under center.


RPO slant, stick and swing attachments to our G-Lead, Power and (when we must) Inside Zone runs

Play action slant-and-go to Collin Johnson out of everything where we’re blocking all the down DL

More emphasis on G-Lead and G-Power

Power Sweeps to Carter

Pin and Pull out of 11 personnel

G/T Counter out of 10 personnel

Draw plays out of 10 personnel


11 personnel zone runs as a base identity

Keeping Cade Brewer on the field for 60+% of the snaps and not involving him in the passing game in any meaningful way

Counter runs for Warren

Stretch/jet runs for Foreman when we have Duvernay, Heard and even Lil’Jordan Humphrey on the roster

12 personnel anything


A worse than 40/60 gap/zone ratio in any game for the rest of the season.

Outside zone to Nickelson’s side even one time.


What would you like to see as the Longhorns look to get the ground game back on track?