No starter? No big deal. While Longhorn fans are busy worrying about an anemic performance from the running backs against a vastly physically outmatched Rice team, Greg Davis is busy being unconcerned about who starts. Vondrell McGee is listed as the starter after an unimpressive 8 carries for 30 yards, with Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whitaker listed as the co-backups. PB mentioned yesterday that McGee looks uncomfortable running the ball out of the shotgun. Despite his "Bulldozer" nickname from high school, McGee hasn't shown the ability to break tackles in his time at Texas.
Solution? The scheme seems to be part of the problem, as running out of the shotgun doesn't take advantage of McGee's downhill running style. Surely, his knee injury suffered in the FAU game doesn't help, but I think some tweaks to the scheme would benefit McGee. The easiest adjustment is a wrinkle that some zone read teams are running now: instead of having the running back right next to the quarterback, he stands a foot or two farther back. For a running back without explosive quickness, it allows extra room to accelerate and read the defense. Something less easy to install (it would probably have to be done in the spring) is to use some of the Pistol formation that Nevada runs. The running back remains at normal depth, while the quarterback takes the snap from in front of him, using a three step drop when passing. It allows the running back to get a running start when receiving the ball, negating the biggest weakness of running from the shotgun. It requires some footwork adjustment by the quarterback and may take some time to develop timing, but it's something to consider.
No tight end solutions yet. Ever since his devastating injury on Saturday night against Rice, Texas coaches have been searching for a solution to the problem of replacing the versatile Blaine Irby. So far, they have no answers. IT's Ross Lucksinger ($) calls for a shift in offensive philosophy and a movement to a base four wide receiver set. Unless Greg Smith or someone else really prove themselves a threat in the passing game, it doesn't make sense to have them on the field except for running downs. Going four wide might even help the running game by spreading the field even more and forcing defenses to play more nickel defense, leaving them smaller and less physical. The Longhorns also have the depth at the receiving position to do it. In fact, one of the issues coming into fall practice was getting playing time for all the talented receivers. The shift may even allow the electric John Chiles more snaps.
Speaking of Chiles. Mack Brown said the nine Q package plays against Rice "looked good." I'm not sure if the coaches consider it part of the package, but several plays with Chiles at quarterback were impressive, including several of his long runs. It wasn't just his athletic ability evidenced in those runs, it was his vision. On two plays he saw holes open up. Instead of running into trouble within the design of the play, he improvised and hit the holes quickly and decisively. That vision, coupled with a moribund running game, leads me to believe that Chiles should see more snaps at running back, especially because it's hard to justify taking McCoy off the field in big games when he's running the offense with the precision of a maestro.
A savior from the defensive ranks? Texas coaches mentioned on Monday that they may look to the defense to help fill the decimated tight end ranks. No specific names were given by the staff, leaving it up to your humble scribe to speculate. And so I shall. The first two names that come to mind are Brian Orakpo and Eddie Jones, although I think the problem is pressing enough to warrant some practice time spent on tight end tryouts on defense. Orakpo makes sense because of his size/speed combination, but his value to the defense probably outweighs any potential gain for the offense. Eddie Jones, however, hasn't been seeing a lot of playing time with the emergence of Henry Melton and Sam Acho, who played some tight end in high school and might be another option because of his experience. With limited practice time, the package wouldn't be anything close to extensive, but with several complimentary plays, could be effective. I don't think any defense wants to let Eddie Jones or Sam Acho run through their secondary without any resistance.