The Signing Day press conference on Wednesday from Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown didn't just introduce the members of the 2013 class, he also officially introduced the new Texas offense under playcaller Major Applewhite.
During the wild comeback in the Alamo Bowl, the Texas Longhorns were able to wear down the Oregon State defense with an up-tempo attack that also gave quarterback David Ash some confidence and the opportunity to recover from a poor start for the first time in his career.
That will continue into the 2013 football season.
It marks the second time in three years that the Longhorns -- and Mack Brown in particular -- have had a change in heart about the direction the offense should go in.
Following the 2009 season and the departure of Colt McCoy, Brown attempted to move towards a more "SEC-style offense," commonly citing the pounding ground attack the 'Horns faced against the Crimson Tide in the national championship game and the ineffective response they had to it. Throw in the Fiesta Bowl the year before and Brown began to feel like the Longhorns both could neither run the ball effectively nor stop it when their opponents attempted to impose their will in that regard.
The 2010 changes misfired, so Brown had to take the next step, gutting his staff and bringing in former Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to truly install an offense based around the run game. Harsin experienced a modicum of success in his trying two years on the job -- more than a modicum in 2012, to be fair -- and his tenure at Texas was hardly a failure, but some systematic issues began to emerge, some cracks in the facade of his offensive philosphy.
Other than a no-huddle look running at odds with Harsin's desire to run different personnel packages out onto the field all the time, the quarterback situation at Texas hasn't exactly favored the type of autonomy often given to quarterbacks who are tasked with getting plays off so quickly, though some teams often counter that by "looking back" to the sideline for play calls instead of huddling, which forces the defense to align and then react.
First and foremost among those cracks, however, was the fact that the 'Horns weren't running enough plays. In a conference where many of the top teams predicate their offensive attack on spreading and shredding defenses with fast-paced units, Texas finished sixth in the conference last season in total plays, only ahead of the more intentionally plodding or ineffective units.
There's probably not an entirely direct correlation between the number of plays run and the yards per play averages of the teams in the Big 12, but it is obvious from looking at the raw numbers that the teams that ran more plays had a higher yards per play average. The top two teams in the conference were switched, and so were four and five, but other than that, the yards per play decreased accordingly with the number of plays the team ran.
On the surface, it makes sense, even -- the more plays that a team runs, the more successful they are likely to be because defenses get tired, can't substitute, and have to play more base defensive looks that involve less disguise since they have less time to get in position and communicate the playcall.
Brown confirmed on Wednesday that the change in tempo will be the major alteration for the 2013 season, though there will be some other changes that go along with it:
We want to run a similar offense, but do it from no-huddle, and try to keep the same personnel on the field. In fact, we changed so much personnel over the last couple of years that we felt like it gave defenses a chance to match with us in packages. So we're trying to get a group on the field and keep them on the field and run a lot of different plays and formations from the same personnel so the defense cannot rest, because in the last quarter against Oregon State, they got tired.
Speeding up the tempo and cutting down on the number of packages, and therefore substitutions, go hand in hand -- the former can't happen without the latter, because defenses have the opportunity to match offensive changes in personnel.
The previous change in offenses was borne out of a perceived need to practice against power-running looks. This particular adjustment is also in response to similar pressures:
We feel also by going uptempo in practice, because most of our league is a tempo league now, we will be more ready on defense to play at that pace as well because they're going to see it every day in practice. We found when people are snapping the ball in 15-18 seconds, it's very hard to try to get that picture in practice with a scout team, so we need to be doing it every day against each other.
Brown was adamant that the changes in the offense won't result in a movement away from the emphasis on the run game that has been the defining feature of what Brown has wanted to accomplish over the last three years:
Still have got to be physical. Still have to run the football. Still have similar play. Still have all the numbers. We're not changing our offense, we're changing our tempo. We're really excited about it. That's one reason [assistant coach/running backs coach] Larry Porter fit where we're headed. We wanted to do tempo most of the Oregon State game, but we couldn't because we weren't ready for it. We only had five or six plays. Our coaches were limited in that package. When we decided to do it in the second half it really helped us.
Though little was really known about Major Applewhite's inclinations as an offensive coordinator, some of his philosophy is now starting to come into clearer focus. It's not exactly surprising that tempo is a big change -- this reaction piece from Applewhite's hiring listed increasing the tempo and finding a base personnel package as two of the five most important things that the former Texas quarterback could alter to help the Texas offense.
There's also been a lot of discussion throughout the season, and especially in recent weeks when Marquise Goodwin blew up at the Senior Bowl, about the number of touches for the fastest players on the team. Some have argued that there are only a certain number of plays to go around, but if that was indeed the limiting factor, then the solution is simply to run more plays.
Brown basically agreed, with an understandable caveat:
I think the kids are excited about it as well. You try to get your fast guys in space, continue to do a better job with your vertical passing game. When your numbers fit, you have to be physical.
And running more plays to get those guys the ball is precisely the solution at which Major Applewhite has arrived, while still retaining Brown's core ideals.
Applewhite's offensive philosophy is coming into focus, the early returns were good, and the Texas offense should only get more entertaining to watch in the 2013 season with Goodwin the only significant departure.
It's unclear how bright the future of Texas football is at this point, but it will unquestionably be faster.