I was planning on breaking down our offensive formations and schemes for each game in search of trends. Unfortunately, in my rush to Houston, I forgot to set my DVR and breaking down film on ESPN3 was harder than finding a Rice fan in Reliant. Statistical analysis is challenging without data, so I'll throw out the conclusions I was able to come to.
Redzone Offensive Woes
In our first drive of the season, Cody Johnson had four shots from inside the four-yard line and came away empty handed. Considering the weight disparity in the trenches, it was hardly a welcome sight. Tre’ Newton had much better luck but it still took him two or three shots to find paydirt. Redzone success will require being multidimensional, which is all about putting the right players in the right formations.
Greg Davis relied on a TE-Trips formation—Goodwin wide, Chiles in the slot, and Matthews at TE on one side with Kirkendoll on the other—to march down the field on the opening drive. It spread out Rice’s five defense backs to achieve a numbers advantage in the interior. When inside the twenty, Davis switched Kirkendoll for Williams and Chiles for Greg Smith. Williams and Goodwin went wide together, forcing a safety to shade over them. Matthews stayed at tight-end and Smith lined up a yard behind him. I cannot say enough good things about this package. The Horns have the personnel to run power plays on one side and two receivers to run complimentary routes on the other. In play action, Williams can use his height in the corner as Goodwin shakes his defender on a slant inside.
After Texas drove inside the five, Davis switched into a traditional goal line formation. Berryhill and Johnson lined up in the I, Matthews and Howard stayed close at TE, and Smith motioned at H-Back. Sure, that formation has an abundance of power, but is it multidimensional? Clearly even Rice can stop it with eleven men in the box. No player out of those five is a credible threat in the passing game. The toss play demonstrated their lack of quickness.
There is middle ground between a passing and running offenses and it is especially important that we find it inside the twenty.
Keeping it Simple
It seems like we forgot, but yesterday was Gilbert’s first career start. Gilbert completed 14 of 23 passes for only 172 yards. Similarly, some guy named Vince Young only went 14-21 for 153 against North Texas to open 2004. Keeping that in mind, Greg Davis did a great job of keeping things simple for Gilbert. In turn, Gilbert took the plays he was given and managed the clock and his squad well. Consider yourself lucky you did not have to watch him mishandle snaps as poorly as his Gator counterpart.
Gilbert made great pre-snap reads and checked down extremely well. In the first quarter, he lined his team up in that TE-Trips formation I was talking about early. Gilbert saw that Chiles’ and Goodwin’s slants were smothered by Rice’s 4-2-5 and checked down effortless to Greg Smith who had run a flat into the space cleared by the slants. The three measly yards gained are not the point. Gilbert’s predecessor might have tried to force the ball into a double team or scrambled horizontally. Our new gunslinger stood in the pocket, moved up when necessary, and calmly delivered the ball. His misthrows were on deep outs, the hardest route to throw. Those routes demand the quarterback deliver the ball in four dimensions—height, width, length, and time—with a high risk of interception.
In another play I was able to work out, Gilbert made another smart check down. After smashing Cody Johnson up the middle for four times, Davis called a timely play-action boot. Matthews held the end while Kirkendoll dragged across the field, Chiles ran an out, and Goodwin dispossessed his defender on a quick hitch. Gilbert had an NFL quarterback’s pocket presence, saw that his receivers were blanketed, and fired the ball into Goodwin’s chest before his defender recovered.
The Advantage of Running Down Hill
Texas only had one play that resulted in a loss of yards. I doubt we went a quarter last season without a negative play. There is an undebatable correlation between running from under center and avoiding negative plays. Even if the play is a bust, the running back is hammered at the line of scrimmage rather than four yards back. In tough games, Gilbert will be faced with a manageable second and ten more often than than second and fourteen.
Mike Davis did not have a catch but I doubt that will last for long. He played first college minutes in the first drive and looked like an instant contributor. From the slot, Davis often gets the benefit of being covered by a linebacker, where he will be deadly on seams and slants.
I second everything that has been said about Kenny Vaccaro. Every great defense needs an enforcer. Despite his size, he provides equal measures of hostility and versatility. Vaccaro can be asked to cover a receiver or add numbers against the run without missing a beat.
There is no reason to worry about Justin Tucker. He missed two kicks: one in the forties and one in the fifties. It is unreasonable for us to ask, but he will make the majority of those kicks anyway.