Following a third straight abysmal offensive performance and a third straight blowout loss for the Texas Longhorns, this time at 38-3 destruction at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, fans are beginning to call for head coach Charlie Strong to fire assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, the ostensible play caller.
It's understandable -- the Horns failed to score a single touchdown and never entered the red zone despite having more than nine months to re-tool an offense was supposed to better fit the quarterbacks and put more pressure on opposing defenses.
Instead of showing improvement, the offense once again looked like a three-and-out machine as it failed to pick up a first down on eight of 12 drives.
When re-watching the game late last night, some play-calling decisions stood out that deserve a little more interrogation. For right now, let's just look at this image of the 3rd and 3 play that ended the first Texas drive with a three and out.
This is the first failed third-down conversion for the Longhorns, but it was telling of how Watson approached short down-and-distance situations. Instead of using a run-pass option to make the defense wrong, Watson instead called for each of the four receivers to run vertical routes on a straight drop-back pass for Swoopes. The only player in the screen here, senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson, runs what appears to be a double move, never presenting himself as a target when the ball needs to come out, which is basically right when as this screenshot is taken.
The problem is that the offensive line can't pass protect for as long as it takes for those routes to come open down the field, as junior right tackle Kent Perkins gets beat and Swoopes has to vacate the pocket. Even with slightly better protection, none of the receivers down field create separation, so the poor protection ultimately doesn't even matter.
Notice the lack of a check-down, either, as senior running back Johnathan Gray probably has a check-release on this play, but has to stay in the backfield to help pass protect. As a result, Swoopes has no outlet when the pressure forces him to his right on the run. When he does so, there aren't even any wide receivers who work back to anywhere close to the Texas quarterback.
What is Watson trying to do here? Produce a big play? It certainly looks like it, as there's no real attempt here to just pick up the first down and keep the chains moving. Instead, it might as well as 3rd and 25 with the route concept that Watson called.
It was a common theme on the evening in such situations and it contributed mightily to the Texas struggles. And so mounting evidence suggests that Watson isn't capable of effectively running whatever vision the program has for the offense right now.