The WildHorn debut was successful in part because Tech wasn't prepared for the play, as evidenced by about three players biting on the fake to DJ Monroe, but also because the Longhorns executed the three of the four plays well, while using the only passing play so far, a play that could have gone for big yardage had Colt McCoy delivered the pass with more accuracy.
The Goalline Dalliance
After the UTEP game, Mack Brown explained why the Longhorns used the WildHorn in the red zone in that game, seemingly an odd decision given the decreased space so close to the goalline:
Philosophically, a few things that we are looking at are the Wild Horn. When you have three games that we have pretty much blown out in the first four, you get to look at a lot of different things. We have just been looking at plays and toys. We have not run the Wild Horn on the goal line before in the red zone, but we did it the other night and did not do it well, so we are trying to tweak that entire formation and see where we go from here. We were disappointed in our red zone running game the other day - not goal line short yardage, we are doing that very well - but we do not think that we responded very well when we were in the red zone and kicked two field goals. We felt like starting at the eight or five-yard line that we should have scored touchdowns.
Brown acknowledged that using the formation in the red zone did not give the plays a high chance of success ($):
When we get into a game like that (against UTEP) - and we've been in three where we could do what we want - we hadn't worked on the Wild Horn in the red zone.
So it wasn't fair to the kids. But we just talked about it and said, ‘What the heck, let's try it.' When we've needed two or less yards, we've been great.
Brown and the coaching staff are still concerned about running the football in the red zone. Yes, the Longhorns have scored on 23 of 23 of their red zone trips, but there will be at least one game this season when they can't afford to settle for field goals. If the UTEP game is any indication, then the WildHorn won't be much help inside the 10.
Did the WildHorn fail against UTEP because it is as poorly derived as the Q package? Or did the team just need to execute better and work out some kinks in the schemes? The answer, as it does many times in life, probably falls somewhere in the middle -- the UTEP defense made some adjustments and gave the blocking scheme some problems, but the Longhorns need to make some adjustments. On the most successful play, the counter read by Chies that gained three yards, Ulatoski had pick up a defensive end who sliced into the backfield after a pre-snap shift inside. EBS can't block that player, so why pull the tackle in that case? Just like the first play run against UTEP, the tackle should have stayed at home to block that player after the shift and the play might have succeeded. The blocking schemes for each of the plays was surely something the coaching staff looked at during the bye week.
The Elephant in the Room
The most strident argument against the WildHorn is probably the massive outright failure of 33% of the plays -- Chiles lost major yardage on two of the six plays so far. Both of those resulted from poor snaps by Chris Hall that forced Chiles to fall on the ball in the first instance and in the second caused the play to descend into chaos. In my recollection, Hall hasn't had any problems hiking the ball to McCoy, but I think the problems are really an indication of the lack of practice time spent with the plays.
Davis could make the best, most innovative playcall with the WildHorn and it wouldn't matter if the players don't execute, particularly in fundamentals like adequately snapping the football. While the coaching staff surely put in some new plays, refining the several plays currently used is also a priority. Is it worth it to continue to try to block the read end or linebacker, given that optioning that player off is the purpose of that type of football? Can a blocker account for the outside linebacker on the counter read when Monroe takes the handoff?
The Wildcat Series
How Does Darren McFadden Do It? (via CBS)
The plays worked effectively on the goalline for the Piggies, could work for Texas anywhere on the field, and present the possibility of actually, you know, running some plays from a single-wing series with the WildHorn, which is philosophically quite divorced in everything but name from what most other teams are doing with their Wildcat packages. It makes sense that the coaching staff didn't want to spend critical time in fall camp putting in a whole new series and, instead, altering some playbook staples to put Chiles at quarterback -- the zone read and the new counter read, plus the reverse pass.
With the bye week providing some extra work in practice, I believe the Longhorns could have installed the Wildcat series Lee used at Arkansas -- the blocking schemes are simple and perhaps the hardest thing element of the plays is the timing between Chiles and Monroe. Here are the plays, as they would look for Texas:
Lee calls this the Stealer play and it's been a staple at Arkansas and now at Miami. In fact, along with the power, it's the basis of what most teams use with the formation. Monroe comes into motion while the blocks down the line of scrimmage, much like the speed option play that will be discussed later. It's a deceptive play because the linebackers have to freeze for a second to defend against the power, critical time when facing the elite speed of DJ Monroe. This play gets the ball to Monroe in space better than the counter read because he's already near full speed when he takes the handoff.
If the defense moves the outside linebacker (the linebacker on the wide side of the field) outside of the box to deal with the Stealer, then the offense has an easier task running the power play with one less player in the box, though this play diagram assumes the linebacker remains in the box, as Tech played the Longhorns after the first play that Chiles broke off for big yardage:
It looks like the Stealer to defenders with their eyes in the backfield as Monroe goes in motion, but it's a pre-determined run up the middle with Chiles, behind the left guard pulling into the hole and searching for the inside linebacker. If the outside backer takes any false steps worrying about Monroe, a serious concern for him from his position inside the tackle, then the pulling guard may get to the third level before encountering any resistance, ostensibly with Chiles on his hip. Chiles may not be Darren McFadden, but the speed of Monroe outside gives a defense a lot to think about, especially at full speed.
Of course, both plays work towards the wide side of the field, so what happens when the defense overpursues? A constraint play, of course -- the counter, already a part of the WildHorn in a different iteration, but here working as pure misdirection:
Chiles fakes the handoff to Monroe, taking a slight step or two with the motioning running back before reversing course and taking advantage of the open backside of the defense.
Those three simple plays form the basis of the series that has made the Wildcat wildly successful and one that Texas could undoubtedly use to great effect -- that is, if the Longhorns decided to work on it during their bye week.
The Option Option
To my knowledge, the Dolphins also run an option variation of the original series that is much similar to the counter read play that Texas already runs, but with the running back starting in motion from the short side of the field, of course. If it isn't a play that Dolphins use, the Longhorns could easily install it by optioning off a defender in the box, the defensive end on the wide side of the field, leaving another blocker free to account for an extra unblocked player. Imagine the counter read play, except with only the backside guard pulling and Monroe coming in motion from the short side of the field.
There is another option play in the playbook that Texas could revisit with Chiles, one that they used with him at quarterback -- the speed option, another play that works well to try to punish teams for putting all three linebackers in the box:
So far this season the Longhorns have scored twice using this play with the base offense, so it works even with McCoy running it.
Oh Yeah, He Was a Quarterback
Perhaps the most intriguing, unexplored aspect of the WildHorn is the possibility of using Chiles to throw the football a little bit. Neither McFadden nor Ronnie Brown are really trustworthy enough to throw many passes out of the formation and Lee tends to use an extra tight end or an unbalanced line, which the Longhorns won't be doing, leaving Texas with two legitimate receivers on the wide side against a defense pinched in towards the middle, keeping the deep safety inside the tackles and leaving the strong safety and cornerback one-on-one with the receivers, presenting the opportunity for several easy throws.
The first throw is a play-action screen pass to Jordan Shipley in the sub-B position, with Malcolm Williams blocking for him:
If Chiles can hit Shipley even reasonably well on the run, the play has a high likelihood of success and the possibility of breaking a big one without a lot of moving parts having to come together, especially if the play fake to Monroe occupies the linebackers, as it should.
The second play is the exact same design as the reverse pass used against Tech, except with a fake to Monroe instead of using the reverse and Chiles throwing the ball instead of Colt:
Both of the passes are easy deliveries for Chiles and the design of the second has already worked in terms of sucking in the strong safety. The screen shot above was taken from a play against UTEP where the cornerback face guarded Shipley the whole time and never once looked into the backfield, so Shipley's slant route into the end zone will almost cerrtainly draw coverage. If not, it's a pretty easy throw for Chiles to hit Shipley as long as he makes sure the free safety bit on the play fake for a beat or two.
Put Up or Shut Up Time
This will be a critical week for the WildHorn -- if it is successful, expect the Longhorns to continue to use it, especially as they seek to use the quarterback to run more often, but try to protect Colt McCoy from injury. If it isn't successful, it could go the way of the Q package and disappear.This week, Brown asked the Texas players to take ownership ($) of the formation:
We're looking at Wild Horn, and we've told the kids if it's not good, we're not using it. So unless you can use it seven, eight times a game, why have it when you're taking your All-American quarterback out from under center to put someone in.
So if it's not helping take away some of the quarterback runs from Colt, then don't mess with it. So if you guys want it, you better bust your tail, or we won't be long with it.
However, Chiles believes that the unique UTEP defense disrupted the goalline plays because the Miners" gave us some looks we hadn't seen, but we've been working on it and we'll have it fixed for this week." Personally, the triggerman thinks the formation has staying power.
Chiles added, "The more we add to it, the more they can't key on just a few options. The more I give to D.J. (Monroe) and do some different things, the more it will surprise people. It spreads the field out, and I'm gonna have to give him the ball a little more, so they can't key on me."
The speed of Monroe presents a lot of problems for defenses, especially as they put seven men in the box to deal with the running game of Chiles. In attempting to get Monroe the ball more often, the concern is that defenses will simply run the read man up the field to force the handoff, then not have to worry about scraping a linebacker behind to defend the play, instead leaving that man in the box to defend Chiles. The Longhorns may have to devise a play like the Stealer that is a pre-determined handoff based on previous defensive strategy by the other team.
But the main reason the Longorns are using the play is to relieve pressure for McCoy to help carry the running game, according to Brown:
We're trying to take some of Colt's hits away and let John Chiles take those runs because all the Wild Horn is what's Colt's been running and what John has been running for two years.
As the Longhorns continue to struggle finding a consistent running game, the WildHorn may stick around just because Texas needs to run the football, but also needs to protect the most valuable player on the team. However, the team must execute the plays better -- paritcularly Chris Hall, who has struggled snapping the ball to Chiles. Other concerns include players understanding their blocking assignments, dealing with pre-snap adjustments, especially players shifting into gaps across from pulling lilneman, and getting the ball to Monroe more often.
Heading into the game against Colorado, the continued existence of the WildHorn is on the line and provides one of the most compelling storylines to a game the Longhorns are expected to dominate. Does it have staying power or is it really just another Q package to which the coaches won't fully commit and let it just fade away?