It’s not every day that a guy who miiiiight have been the 50th-best athlete on the squad cracks the Top Ten for Indispensability. But Andrew Beck earned his pre-camp spot on that list thanks to a perceived dearth of other legit blocking options at his position - and as camp draws to a close, that perception still holds.
Tom Herman has loved up on Kendall Moore, Garrett Gray, Reese Leitao and Cade Brewer at various points during the offseason. It’s possible that one or more of those guys becomes an effective box/backfield blocker, though Moore is almost certainly the only candidate to line up in-line this season. If one or more of them can fill the bill, it could allow the Longhorns to base out of 11 personnel (1 back, 1 TE/H-back, 3 WRs) with close to the same frequency that Herman favored at Ohio State and Houston.
But when you read this quote from yesterday’s media avail:
“I think offense is about making sure that you have the best 11 guys on the field without straining too far from what your core beliefs are. If that means a little bit more 10 personnel, four wide receivers, or 20 personnel, 2 backs and three wide receivers, we’ve got 16 days to figure that out, or maybe one of these guys, Garrett Gray, Kendall Moore or Cade Brewer, prove to us that they deserve to be on the field quite a bit. So we’re giving them every opportunity to do that.”
You get the strong sense that 10 (personnel) will be a very substantial component of what Texas tries to get done this season.
As we theorized in Thinking Texas Football, that conundrum could mean an increased emphasis on the QB run game by deploying more Ehlinger or embracing more risk with Buechele. But if you assume that pass-friendly sets will play more to Buechele’s strengths while QB depth (largely) constrains #7’s role in the run game to keeping out wide when an end crashes, rolling out a smashmouth ground game becomes a search for answers.
And just about any answer figures to hinge on maximizing the stupendous skills of 2018 NFL first-rounder Connor Williams. When you’ve got a guy who moves like he weighs 250 and engulfs opponents like he weighs 350, how can you best deploy him to get some suddenly-dicey box numbers back on your side?
After taking a spin back through some Ohio State and Houston film and also seeking the counsel of some savvy dudes in the coaching ranks, here are some approaches that might fill the bill.
The first could be breaking out a recent Baylor ground game staple, Dart:
If the D has six in the box with four down DL and a backside end that’s a little wide, you can run Dart with the tackle pulling and leading up into the hole. The right tackle gives a pass set drop to invite the playside DE upfield and then seals him off while the interior OL down block and climb from a double team to the backside linebacker. Account for the backside end with a read, and ensure that your inside receiver to that side can make a strong stalk block on the nickel/overhang guy to make sure that your QB doesn’t get Mahomes’d if he keeps.
A simple variant to that concept would let Williams take the playside DE on a Counter-style kickout block:
To get pretty much the same action, but with the right tackle immediately climbing to take on the Will. If you’ve got a rowdy nose tackle, you can double team him instead and climb from that to take on the other ‘backer.
Of course, #55 isn’t the only guy with sweet feet on the Texas OL. To get Patrick Vahe in on the action, the Longhorns could roll out a version of the full-on Counter play that OU used to devastating effect with Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine last season:
This is a flipped version of how things looked when OU rang up its first score against Houston last September. Depending on the DL’s alignment it can be a bit tricky for the center to lay good wood on the backside 3 tech or 4i, but if he can keep that guy from getting to the party and the guard is able to kick out the playside end then you’ve got a big back heading right up Main Street.
Another solid way to leverage Williams’ all-around badassitude is using him to single-handedly hold the edge while you look to spring a run outside him. You can simply loop Vahe outside:
...and enjoy a double angle advantage as Collin Johnson cracks down on the weakside linebacker while we see how enthusiastic the boundary corner is about crack-replacing when he finds himself on an island with an angry Islander. This one packages nicely with a bubble screen to the Field trips side to discourage an overhang defender from running the play down from the backside.
Texas could also dust off a version of the Pin n’ Pull concept that Bryan Harsin employed at Texas and that Herman liked to roll out at both Houston and tOSU:
Herman has never been shy about lining up trips to the boundary side to threaten defenses with tunnel screens or lead runs while opening up plenty of room to attack the field. Here Vahe is kicking out the overhang guy while Jake McMillon pulls to lead the play and square up the playside linebacker as the tunnel screen action conspires to keep the backside linebacker conflicted - this concept actually works well as a Run-Pass Option with that backside guy as the read. Aside from Williams, the toughest block here belongs to the center as he needs to keep the nose from flowing with the play and shutting things down before the back can cut upfield.
Jet motion is another way to keep defenders off-balance from four-wide sets. One fun wrinkle is to use some “wrong-way” Counter blocking to put multiple defenders in No-Man’s Land:
Here, the O would be using the threat of Dev Duve rocketing into the open field to freeze the field-side end. If he follows the counter blocking from Williams and Vahe, it’s a give to the jet and the free safety gets tasked with making a superhero play in the open field. The field-side ILB gets a sizable mindfuck as he tries to process the running back (who’s taking a couple of steps like a lead blocker before counter-stepping back) and receiver flowing to the field while the guard and tackle tell him the play’s going the other way. If the end widens to string out the jet, the QB pulls the ball and gives it to the back on the counter with plenty of well-set up blocks in front of him.
As one more alternative, you can just stick to basics. Texas was going to be a heavy Inside Zone team out of 11 personnel, and there’s no reason they can’t continue to do so out of 10. Reading the backside DE is the simplest way to go, but you could also change things up and use an RPO slant/skinny post to take advantage of an enthusiastic linebacker:
In one of the better-case scenarios for this season, the terror of Collin Johnson on the boundary will demand a near-constant double team. If an opponent wants to lock down the Longhorns’ most dangerous weapon and still look to outnumber the run, our ceiling comes down to Buechele’s ability to exploit single coverage to the field side. One fun way to do that could be employing an Inside Zone variant that doesn’t read the weakside end, but rather the field-side ILB. It’s hat on hat with the uncovered OL (McMillon in this case) working up to the weakside LB while Buechele reads the Mike’s post-snap reaction. If he’s flying up to stop the run, a well-sold fake-stalk ‘n slant from the #3 receiver can pop right over his head and into green grass - and if that boundary safety has crept up too far for the run or widened too far to account for CJ, that slant can go all the way to paydirt.
Those are some initial thoughts on how Texas could get its scariest skill personnel on the field and still lay some wood to opponents - what are yours? If you’ve got some thoughts or concepts that you’d like to see, lay ‘em out in the comments and I’ll try to draw ‘em up and add them to this piece.