Richard Justice Interruption

Instead of your previously-planned programming -- a look at Terrence Cody or an Anatomy Post (undecided at the moment, but both mostly complete), there will be an brief interruption brought to you courtesy of Richard Justice, who stopped my research about Cody dead in its tracks. This is a stop-what-you-are-doing interruption -- that's what happened to me and therefore necessary for you as well, dear reader.

*Begin rant

Apparently sportswriters don't know much about sports. It's commonly said that most sportswriters couldn't diagram a play to save their lives and I wouldn't put it past our old buddy Kirk Bohls to do so, but Richard Justice says it more even be worse than we possibly imagined:

By the time Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis finished explaining the complexities of pass protection Sunday morning, it seemed to fall somewhere between splitting an atom and carrying on a conversation with a teenage daughter. His bottom line may be that no sportswriter can understand it all. He might be right about that. (emphasis mine)

Before going on here, let's stop to understand what is going on here. Greg Davis is talking about things that I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about -- why there are massive and systematic breakdowns with our offensive line in pass protection way too often for such an experienced group -- and the person who is supposed to be telling me about this conversation compares it to nuclear physics. Then said sportswriter out and out admits that he is worthy of Davis' condescension because he does not in fact know what Davis is talking about.

So Justice raises some questions so a blogger like me can do his job for him. Let's begin the lesson, Richard -- unlike Davis I will condescend to explain this in terms that you can understand.

Follow me and I'll let you ask some questions and start making some statements. Maybe you can even combine the two for some excellent hybrid question/statements.

Question 1: But if Bama runs pro-style blitzes, why can’t Texas run pro-style pass protection?

This one is pretty simple, Richard -- because Alabama is coached by an NFL-level defensive mind, like say, the type of guy who has coached in the NFL several times and is going against a team that has several interrelated problems with the offensive line.

The first problem is what happens on the field, as several times a game -- or much more often when facing good three techs like McCoy and Suh -- the offensive line goes into massive FAIL mode. Often one player, sometimes multiple players, as in the case of the attempted double team where Chris Hall knocked his teammate off of Suh. This can easily be attributed to personal suck and lack of talent and/or ability to learn to play the game at a high level. Either one is bad, as is the combination that appears to be present.

So Richard, let me refresh your memory about the most recent game and maybe this will help you understand the way that the first and second problems relate. Against Nebraska, the Longhorns often did not double team Suh, letting him variously whip Michael Huey and David Snow within an inch of losing every single last bit of their confidence as football players. Then when they did adjust, it just made things worse.

That brings up the second problem -- the schematic adjustments by the coaches to help the players. Both Brown and Davis have admitted in the weeks after the Nebraska game that they should have helped out poor Snow and Huey more often when they were matched up one-on-one with someone who was eating their friggin' lunch on every play, an unbelievable and catastrophic percentage who guys who are supposed to win the great, great majority of the time. Who knew that Davis and Brown sometimes double as Director and Coordinator of Obviousness?

There were virtually no schematic adjustments in the first half against Suh. I saw Chris Hall bouncing around on his toes looking for someone to block more times against Nebraska in the opening half than I care to even remember. No one ever blitzed, Hall just bounced and bounced, looking around. All while the destruction of Huey/Snow went down just to his right.

The fact that when the adjustment was finally made that it didn't work relates to the third problem -- the inability of the coaching staff to effectively teach these players to be any good. They haven't improved in the last several years and continue to make the same mistakes. At some point, the failure to execute on the is a teaching problem as well.

And I will have to save my 20-minute rant on why Texas can't in a month teach the mid-line option, or three-tech DT zone read play (go, BONizens, read and marinate upon this play), to one of the most experienced groups of offensive linemen in the country. Yes, Greg Davis basically admitted that in a month he could not teach his team to run a play that involves an adjustment in blocking by one player. Yes, Greg Davis, holder of pass protection knowledge comparable to nuclear physics, cannot teach his tackle to block a defensive end on the three tech zone read.

But once again, the fact that the obvious adjustment against Nebraska when it was finally made did not even work and that's an indictment for all three of the interrelated problems. An aboslute indictment.

So, Richard, long answer short -- either the coaches can't teach it, make the proper in-game adjustments, or the players have no prayer of executing what you term "pro-style pass protection." As I mentioned, though, these are interrelated, so all three of these thigns are true. Enough massive suck and epid FAIL to go arond several times. But it's not nuclear physics.

Following me still, Richard? You are the sportswriter, so why don't you just try on a statement of your own for good size. You do have a column to write and it can't all be filled with rhetorical(?) questions.

Statement 1: Texas at times seems more concerned with exotic pass routes than the basics.

Wait, what? Richard, did you just call the Texas passing game "exotic"? I don't know if I can help you, man, but I'll continue just for the enjoyment of my fellow BONizens. Richard, there is little exotic about the Texas passing game -- they run the same stuff from the same exact formation all the time. That's how Davis confounds defenses -- by looking simple and being simple. That's why Nebraska and Oklahoma pretty much owned our offense for most of the game -- they coached for our tendencies and we pretty much gave them our tendencies in the passing game. Hell, the running game was more creative than the passing game against Oklahoma and the running game displays so little idea of how to put together a coherent running scheme that it just boggles my mind because you can just copy people. Some teams do manage to have coherent schemes. Just do what they do. Anyway. No, Richard, the passing game is not "exotic" and please don't let me hear you say that ever again or I will become extremely sad. Or quite possibly extremely angry.

I can't spend any more time on something so obvious -- le's move on.

Let's try a question again, Richard, you seem to be better at those.

Question 2: Why not keep a running back in for pass protection?

They do. Tre' Newton is good at it and has had probably fewer than five major breakdowns in pass protection (if even that) all season. Do you not watch the games, Richard? Newton was spectacular in blitz pick up against Texas A&M, perhaps the most underrated reason why the Longhorns were able to move the ball so well in that game. In summary, Texas does keep the running back in and that's the least of the protection problems.

Let's try something new, Richard. Why don't you try to combine a question and a statement?

Question/Statement 1: Better still, why not have both a tight end and running back help out?

Interesting try, Richard. Not a bad effort, as these things are going for you. This time, your idea was part of the plan for Texas. I'll try to do this one in pictures for you. Here's an example from the Nebraska game:

Richard, here is the face of Greg Davis as he thinks exactly as you do, right after he calls this play on 3rd and 8, doing just as you suggest. No exotic stuff. Maybe you can understand all this!

Gd_medium

Focused. Intense. Genius.

Nuside11_medium

This is the eighth play from scrimmage for Texas. The Longhorns have already committed one turnover and had a three and out. It's going terribly so far. So Davis dials up a play the Longhorns have probably used for Jordan Shipley twice or more every game since he moved to the slot. It worked at least twice against Oklahoma State for big plays.

  1. McCoy's main read is Jordan Shipley, who will run an out to the sideline at around 10 yards.
  2. The second read is Kirkendoll, who will fake a inside stem to his route -- a slant or crossing route -- then try to get an outside release on Prince Amukamara, probably Nebraska's best cover corner.

To be safe, as Richard suggests, the Longhorns are in a max protection look here and will keep both Newton and Smith in to block, even though Nebraska is not blitzing or even showing blitz. This is pure max protection with no check releases.

Nuover1_medium

Here's a look at the defense Nebraska is playing -- Cover 2 man under, basically using the Will linebacker as a defensive back in the box masquerading as a linebacker, in this case Dejon Gomes, who normally plays corner and had an excellent game against Texas by stopping the run and twice blowing up slip screens to Shipley that could have gone for big plays.

  1. The cornerbacks are all playing man coverage taking away any quick routes, including the cornerback at the top of the screen cut out by the camera angle. 
  2. The two deep safeties and the Will backer will each take one deep third of their field in the zone. Gomes is probably also responsible for the tight end and filling his gap against the run, but as soon as he reads his key, he's bailing out for the middle deep third.
  3. The Mike backer here is responsible for the run and the running back out of the backfield.

The Longhorns have three receivers in the route going against six Nebraska players dropping into coverage -- the Mike backer doesn't count because he's playing the running back. That's one on two, in other words.

What's that you say, Richard? You have a question?

Question 3: What's the worst that can happen?

A pick six? How about the second interception in three drives?

What's what? You have another question/statement? Go for it.

Question/Statement 2: That McCoy would have no one open and throw the ball away?

Well, let's see.

Nuover2_medium

  1. Shipley slips coming off the line of scrimmage, removing any chance he had of creating separation.
  2. The protection is good initially, though, as you would expect when seven players only have to block four. Even the Texas offensive line can usually handle that for a few seconds.
  3. Kirkendoll, however, gets no separation, as Amukamara takes away the inside release and then uses the sideline to his advantage, as well as the knowledge that if Kirkendoll beats him by a step or two, he has help in that third of the field from the safety.

Nuover4_medium

  1. McCoy has the option of throwing the ball away, the smart decision here as you point out, Richard, but decides to heave it into coverage off his back foot and hope that something good happens. Nothing good happens.
  2. Kirkendoll is obviously not open and Amukamara even has inside position against him.

Nuback6_medium

Another question/statement, Richard?

Question/Statement 3:  Isn’t that better than allowing him to get his face smashed into the turf?

Um, this one really is rhetorical isn't it, Richard? Is a second interception in three series and this wonderful shot of Kirkendoll attempting to play defensive back better than getting chucked like a rag doll by Suh? Is death an option?

What really sums up the mentality by Davis and the offensive overall is the comment by the color guy on the broadcast during the second replay. Kirk Hebstreit says, "Look at the coverage and recognition right now by Nebraska's defense, it's almost like they're in the huddle with Texas and they know what's coming every time Colt McCoy goes back to throw."

First, recall once again that this is the third possession of the game for Texas and Nebraska already has two interceptions. But no, Kirk, they just watch film and chart plays, then coach to the Texas tendencies. Actually, it's quite elementary in terms of coaching. Like something even a mediocre high school coach can do. It's just a matter of having the athletes to stop it consistently. Most teams can't. Teams like Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Alabama can. This isn't a new problem for Texas, Richard, in case you hadn't noticed. It's been going on now for some time.

*End rant

Davis explains nuclear physics

Perhaps this is the section of the article where Justice shows that he really does know what he's talking about. Or maybe he just transcribed the part of the conversation with Davis that he didn't understand in the hopes that the readers would. Who knows -- the only thing knowable here is that Justice decides to really on the Kirk Bohls style of journalism. Mix in a couple stats and then just use cutesy rhetorical devices in lieu of actual analysis. Because that's what people want, dammit!

Here's Davis on maximum protection:

There’s a time and place for (maxiumum protection). If you guess right, it’s great, and we did some in the Nebraska game. You’ve got maximum protection, and you’re throwing against one-on-one coverage. If you guess wrong and they drop eight players and you’ve got three guys going out, now the advantage goes back to them. It’s something you’ve got to use and pick your spots.

Quite true, GD. And quite elementary. The other problem here is that the tight end is pretty much useless in a pass pattern, so there's that limitation. Davis clearly understand the problems with going max protection, but just didn't have many answers for the Nebraska defensive line. Fortunately, the Alabama defensive line isn't nearly as disruptive -- fundamentally sound, yes, and difficult to move, yes, but not disruptive.

When Kirby Smart wants to be disruptive, he can dial up a variety of blitzes and blitz looks. Alabama will show blitz and drop players off into coverage and still be able to confuse the Texas offensive line -- it's happened all season, why should it change now? It's not either blitz or drop back into coverage, too, the blitz look is the third option. When a team has 80 blitzes, with a couple more likely just for this game, there are certainly a ton of blitz looks that drop players into coverage. Even if Alabama doesn't blitz more often against Texas than the 30% or so they average on the season, they will get pressure with those blitzes and can do so with fake blitzes to confuse the protection schemes as well. In fact, it's a lower risk strategy and one that can still work because of all the problems with getting the proper protection call in and getting the players to execute it.

Besides blitzes, Alabama will often run twists in obvious passing situations. There isn't anything on film from the Tennessee, Auburn, or LSU games that suggests this is a major problem for opposing offensive lines, but it's something that the Longhorns have had trouble with in the past and it could happen again.

Suffice it to say, however, that using max protection on nearly every play is not the solution and neither is moving the pocket -- both looks worked out terribly at times against Nebraska. In fact, the Longhorns may have to use Dan Buckner more than they have recently in an effort to spread out the Alabama defense and stretch them horizontally and vertically.

As Justice goes on to suggest, running the ball is part of the solution -- that's not exactly nuclear physics. The problem is the incoherence of the Texas running game and the fact that the offensive line struggles with execution in the running game almost as much as they do in pass protection against blitz. Running the ball will be extremely difficult when Cody is in the game and the scheme won't help the players too much. However, stay tuned for some further thoughts on the running game.

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