Texas-BYU will be battle of tempos on offense

George Frey

Both teams are no running spread, no-huddle attacks.

Tempo on tempo.

in the thin air of Provo, Utah on Saturday, the Texas Longhorns and BYU Cougars will face off at 4,630 feet in a battle of offenses that installed no-huddle, spread attacks in the offseason.

It's going to be a remarkably different game for the Texas defense, more than just about the talent difference and the altitude difference, but rather about tempo and what that means for substitutions and conditioning. A true early-season test in a hostile environment.

"New Mexico State had the ball 47 plays in the first half and if we could not have substituted last week, we would've been tired at halftime," Texas head coach Mack Brown said during his Wednesday press conference.

"That's where a lot of the teams get in trouble and get beat in early games. If they had the ball for 47 plays and 21 minutes to our nine minutes, that could've been devastating to a team that is worn out at halftime and then having trouble tackling in the second half. We were really fresh at halftime."

Instead of substituting on nearly every play, the Texas defense won't be afforded the same opportunity against a BYU offense that often won't trade players at all on a drive.

"The other thing that makes it tougher is BYU is running tempo faster than we are," said Brown. "They had 97 plays last week. We watched the TV copy because it's hard to tell on the video copy, but they're snapping the ball 10-to-15 seconds every time and they're not substituting at all. The bunch that you put out there is probably going to have to stay, unless you use one of your timeouts."

The Cougars actually ran 93 plays in new offensive coordinator Robert Anae's attack, which has the motto, "Go Fast Go Hard." Only four teams ran more plays than that last week in the entire country, so the BYU pace is among the fastest around -- one drive went eight plays in 1:54 and the longest drive of the game, an 11-play effort that went 92 yards, took only 2:17, one of only two that lasted over two minutes.

In all, BYU had 18 drives and held the ball for just over 34 minutes of the game, numbers that left Brown a little bit stunned.

"It's amazing that they could get that many and Virginia didn't get nearly that many," said Brown. "They dominated time-of-possession as well. I mean, they're just snapping it. It's unbelievable how fast they are going. That will help us for next week against Ole Miss and help us for our league because that's what's happening in this league. But that's not who BYU was two years ago when they came in here."

The quick pace and lack of substitutions offensively combined with the altitude with severely test the conditioning that the Texas coaches have been raving about all fall practice, especially at the defensive tackle position, which currently ones goes three deep with proven players -- redshirt freshmen Hassan Ridgeway and Alex Norman will need to be ready to play and may have to give the Longhorns good snaps.

Last week, defenders were coming off the field at virtually every opportunity as defensive coordinator Manny Diaz decided to get a look at a variety of different combinations of players, but this week he will have to find drive-long combinations that can stop the base personnel grouping of BYU.

That depth that the Horns have been working to develop on that side of the ball will get a test this weekend, but the good news is that the secondary and the linebacker corps are both much deeper than they were at this time last season, with much more experienced players, meaning less drop-off when the back ups have to come in the game. In fact, Brown said that the team has stopped talking about starters and back ups, because the expectation is for every player who enters the game to play well.

On the other side, Texas is looking to run roughly 10 or so more plays than the 72 run last week against New Mexico State, a number depressed by the ball-control offense of the Aggies that held the ball for roughly two-thirds of the first half, dominating possession of the ball.

If the Horns can force three-and-outs on roughly half of the Cougar possessions, as Virginia did last week, the offense should be in a strong position to make plays, especially since defensive line depth for BYU is a bit of a concern from their standpoint. Running the ball early is likely to be a struggle in between the tackles for Texas, but if the offense can get close to 90 plays, the BYU defensive line very well may tired out, giving the Horns a chance to take control of the game late.

However it goes down, this looks like a game that could feature 160 or more plays.

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