Welcome to Barking Carnival Chalk Talk, a new-ish feature where we’ll try our hand each week at laying out a bare-bones game plan to attack our opponent on each side of the ball.
Since he hit the 40, Tom Herman has spent the bulk of each 90-hour work week* prepping his players’ hearts, minds and bodies to fulfill a very special brand promise:
Texas will kick the shit out of you.
It’s time to raise the curtain on that notion.
It’s also under-the-lights audition time for Garrett Gray and Cade Brewer - and, by extension, the Longhorns’ 2017 identity as an 11-personnel outfit on offense. Herman has been an 11 personnel guy when given his druthers at both Ohio State and Houston, and in his Monday presser he was adamant that Texas would hew to the same identity despite the loss of Andrew Beck.
He may be pulling a bit of a fast one there...but if so, he’s pulling it on USC, not Maryland.
Therefore, the inaugural 2017 edition of BC Chalk Talk presumes that the staff is placing a premium on a Game One evaluation of Gray and Brewer’s ability to add a physical(ish) dimension to the Longhorn ground attack. With that in mind, here are several plays that could make up the core of a no-nonsense, smashmouth 11-personnel attack while testing a variety of H-back blocking assignments.
First up is executing a kickout block in good old-fashioned Slice Zone:
The noteworthy Terps defenders get numbers rather than position designators - #1 is Mike linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. who led the 2016 Terps with 110 tackles while mixing in six sacks as a frequent blitzer, and #6 is defensive end Jessie Aniebonam who bagged nine sacks as a junior while also starring in the much racier sequel to Annie, Get Your Gun. Carter will usually be aligned to the field/passing strength side, and the Maryland coaches will probably use Aniebonam to bring heat against the shaky right tackle spot all game long rather than locking him in a cage and serving him up as a burnt offering to
Kali Connor Williams.
Not pictured - Jessie Aniebonam. Probably.
The key block here is Garrett Gray’s slice/kickout on Aniebonam. On the Scale of Tough Tight End Run Blocks, Bryan Harsin’s old “handle the defensive end in-line by yourself for two full seconds while both the tackle and center pull outside you” was a 10. This is only a 4 or 5, really requiring just a solid SMACK to halt the defender’s momentum for a moment and get the runner - who’s benefitting from a pair of initial double teams at the point - through the hole. Still, it requires the feet to get across the formation fast enough and at the proper angle to keep the DE from crashing into the back’s line by either beating the TE to the spot or running “over” the block between the TE and the OL. It also requires enough pop to keep the DE from running “over” the block by knocking the TE di-reckally on his ass and into the play.
If Gray gets his block, the rest of the play is pretty straightforward. Jake McMillon and Nickafor double the DT before climbing to the weakside linebacker while Shack and Vahe do the same to the nose before getting up to Carter. He’s an active, downhill dude so timing the get-off will be key to ensure getting a hat on him.
This illustration has Maryland in a conservative two-deep look, but they’re likely to bring an extra DB to the party more often than not rather than let Texas get the ground game rolling. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps is flaring out to prevent the nickel from getting too nosy, and both the outside receivers head deep to ensure that the safeties - and Maryland’s DC - have something to think about before throwing an extra body into run support.
This play can also work as a straight RPO with Buechele throwing to the flat if the nickel creeps in or outright blitzes.
Next up in the Keep It Simple Attitudinal Game Plan comes Inside Zone Lead:
This time, Gray gets to show off his lead blocking skills, motioning and coming through the line of scrimmage to take on one linebacker while Vahe and Shackelford work up to the other after doubling the nose. Both tackles drop step and invite their ends up the field, which nicely sets up a play action option for the three-level flood that’s essentially this offense’s signature passing concept:
Here the protection would slide left with Shackelford watching for a blitz from the weakside while Gray has an inside-out pickup on either a blitz from Carter or the nickel. The back continues his play action motion to flare into the flat underneath a go route from the Z receiver and a corner/sail route from the slot. On the back side, Collin Johnson runs a fade with the option to break off into a comeback if the corner is bailing back into Cover Three and the free safety has rolled to center field.
Another chance for the Longhorns’ H-backs du jour to sport their wrap-and-lead skills could come on a nifty Jet Sweep Counter play that Herman broke out against Oregon in the National Championship Game:
Let’s take a look at this one in BC Super Slo-Mo vision because it’s so damn fun:
The threat of the jet with potential leads from the H-back and tailback (who takes a counter step to the field before taking the handoff) keep the edge defender (and hopefully the backside linebacker) frozen at the snap, while the guard and H-back get on the move. The guard kicks out the linebacker/nickel on the boundary side while the H-back looks to lead up into the hole before the Mac linebacker can ruin the party. The center and playside guard double the nose and then look to climb to that conflicted backside ‘backer while the LT just mauls the shit out of his guy (o hai, Connor Williams!) The Buckeye H-back does a big-boy job in the hole that our guys may not be able to replicate, but there’s no time like the present to find out.
Another test for our newbies can be a look at how well they can block in-line. While the answer is likely “not very,” Herman and Beck could give them an Easy Button on a Pin and Pull concept by having them help a more-than-capable left tackle seal the edge before climbing to the second level. Maryland may use Aniebonam as a floating B-backer type during stretches of this contest, so this concept could work nicely if we catch him on the boundary:
The TE works to the Mac, Vahe pulls to kick out the edge defender, Collin Johnson gets to show off his newfound physicality cracking on the weakside ‘backer while McMillon follows into the hole (either through the B gap or outside the DE depending on what Williams is doing with/to him) and kills the first unblocked thing he sees.
Here’s a look at the Buckeyes’ version, again from the National Championship game:
A final blocking variant to try out - and a terrific litmus test for “am I in any way more useful than Lil’Jordan Humphrey?” - would be flexing our guys out and having them crack down:
They probably won’t do it as well as Charles Bronson, but then again, who would?
For a less awesome but more illustrative image, here’s an option for setting up a couple of nice blocking angles by flexing the H-back out to the boundary side and cracking the weakside backer:
With Williams controlling the boundary DE, Vahe loops around to kick out the first thing he sees in the boundary flat. Shack and Nickafor reach and ride the nose and backside DT, McMillon climbs straight to cut off the Mac and a read by Buechele holds the field DE.
Finally, all block and no catch makes Jack a dull boy...and it would be nonsensical not to make use of Gray and Brewer’s slicker-than-average receiving skills as a key component whenever they’re on the field.
You could use some H-back motion to set up a play-action Smash concept to the boundary that takes advantage of the “All Eyes On Collin” dynamic:
...or get them loose up the seam out of a bunch formation:
A five-man protection on a deep flood concept might be living a taaaad bit dangerously given our right tackle situation, but that’s what hot routes and Collin Johnson are for.
There you go - a highly speculative and likely wildly wrong stab at what Texas might look to get done on offense come Saturday. What do YOU want to see us run?
*And I’m probably low here.