No identity problem for Longhorns offense
Kirk Bohls, Commentary (www.statesman.com)
Two games into a college football season so young that Garrett Gilbert’s just now teething, some have been wondering out loud just when Texas will develop an offensive identity.
Why the panic, I ask?
No offensive identity? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hey, it’s got one. Play just smart enough and sound enough not to make turnovers and risk making your own defense mad at you. That’s an identity.
We kid, but in truth we’re totally on board with Mack Brown’s plan to revolutionize the hometown offense, to come up with a running game that can find yards when the team needs it in short-yardage spots, in the red zone and especially during the fourth quarter.
And that takes time. Maybe lots of it.
But it’s the right thing to do.
Mack’s figured it out well enough to know if he doesn’t design an offense that can win games by the run or the pass, he’ll never have the most complete team he can. His long-range plan gives Texas its best shot at winning more national championships. Got to believe the new emphasis will help out this week against Texas Tech.
It’s not a matter of blowing out Wyoming instead of scraping by 34-7 with a touchdown on the Longhorns’ last offensive snap of the game. It’s the long-term perspective as in seeking a more perfect balance, being prepared to move the ball in rain, sleet or Nebraska snow, taking pressure off a young quarterback, enhancing play-action passes and attracting top-drawer recruits like Cibolo Steele’s Malcolm Brown. All very worthwhile goals.
So forget for a moment that Texas ranks only 64th nationally in total offense (42 yards per game worse than last season) and tied for 39th in scoring offense (five fewer points per game).
Texas’ offense hasn’t committed a turnover.
Texas’ offense hasn’t allowed a sack.
Texas’ offense has six rushing touchdowns in two games.
“Our running game is still developing,” offensive guard Michael Huey said. “I think we’ll be phenomenal on offense.”
By this weekend?
“By this weekend and this year,” he said. “We haven’t give up a sack. It’s possible to go a whole year with no sacks. Anything is possible. That would be an amazing goal.”
Very few teams are so balanced that they can win running or throwing. Southern Cal could in 2004 and 2005. Florida’s done it. So has Oklahoma at times. Florida State used to. So did Miami.
Of the top 10 passing teams, only Houston ranks among the best 33 rushing teams.
Of the top 10 rushing teams, only Oregon and Nevada rank among the top 30 passing teams. (Nevada may be the new standard with its Pistol formation, ranking sixth in rushing and 18th in passing.)
But when it comes to pushing the running game, Mack would rather bang against a defense’s front line than bang his head against the wall.
When I asked Will Muschamp on Monday if he snipes at Greg Davis about how his defense is carrying Davis’ Longhorns offense, the defensive coordinator harrumphed and said, “No. This is a very humbling profession. It just takes one week.”
Then — on his way out of the room on the ninth floor of Bellmont Hall to watch more tape of upcoming opponent Texas Tech — Muschamp smirked, “Did you watch the A&M game last year?”
The memory of last year’s defensive debacle in College Station is still fresh. Davis’ offense carried Muschamp’s defense that Thanksgiving night when the Aggies blistered the Longhorns for 532 yards and 39 points and still lost by 10.
Just nine days later, the Texas defense rose up and held Nebraska to 106 total yards in a narrow 13-12 escape to send the Longhorns into the BCS title game. Then, when Alabama was battering Texas on defense in Pasadena, the Longhorns couldn’t run the ball well enough to give Gilbert some security in the backfield.
On it goes.
“We’re much closer than we were after the first week,” Davis said. “Coaches are eternal optimists, but they’re eternal pessimists, too. We’re not where we’d like to be. We’re taking care of the ball, but we’re not getting enough explosive plays.”
This isn’t the same old, garden-variety Texas offense. By Davis’ count, Colt McCoy and Gilbert lined up the offense in a five-wide, empty-set backfield for 140 snaps. Two games into this season, and it’s done that only five plays so far.
It’d be easy for Brown to feel anxious about the offense’s progress, ditch this new emphasis on the run, line up Gilbert in the shotgun and fling away. But that could retard Texas’ progress.
“If we stayed with our offense as usual, we’d be scoring more, but we wouldn’t be as well off in the long run,” Brown said.
There are other reasons for the slow start.
Texas has a sophomore quarterback who’s made just two starts. Cedric Benson or Ricky Williams isn’t walking in that door to play tailback.
Texas is working in young receivers like Marquise Goodwin — who dropped a 50-yard bomb in the third quarter — and freshman Mike Davis. The team’s playing with a sophomore tight end, Barrett Matthews.
Combine those factors with a change in philosophy, and Texas is stuck in a transitional period that may not pay dividends until later this season.
But it is the correct approach.