Sometimes a 250-pound runner going 11 on 11 against opposing defenses isn’t enough to produce the necessary yardage, as the Texas Longhorns found out against the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.
The 18-Wheeler package featuring senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes produced a highlight-reel touchdown run against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater the week before, but gained only three yards on two carries in the Cotton Bowl.
A year after showing little to no defensive game planning for the package Texas installed the week before, Oklahoma actually looked prepared to face the offensive set that the Sooners used to great effect against the ‘Horns in 2012 with the Belldozer.
The Stoops brothers did a simple thing — zero coverage to put as many defenders near the line of scrimmage as possible. Just enough to respect the passing game by defending the receivers on the field, but not so much respect as he take away resources from stopping the run.
Head coach Charlie Strong promised some changes to the package on Monday, including the most obvious adjustment of forces defenses to account for the threat of a pass.
Swoopes hasn’t attempted a pass out of the package since a deep throw against Notre Dame in the season opener. Unsurprisingly, the senior with erratic accuracy overthrew streaking wide receiver John Burt in the end zone, but simple play-action throws were effective in the package last season.
“We have the pass with it,” Strong said on Monday. “He can throw the football. They're loading the box. We'll make changes.”
Last season, Texas forced Oklahoma to honor the passing game by inserting wide receivers into the game after debuting the package in short-yardage situations the week before.
Gilbert tried a similar tactic on Saturday, and while the Sooners did play zero coverage, the defense also accounted for all four wide receivers on the field.
As a result, Texas had even numbers in the box, a winnable match up, but opted for QB power with Andrew Beck as an extra lead blocker instead of optioning off a defender.
While throwing the ball would make a tremendous amount of sense, especially from the short-yardage version of the 18-Wheeler, failing to use Caleb Bluiett’s blocking ability and taking D’Onta Foreman off the field didn’t do Texas any favors here — it was clear that Swoopes would carry the ball because the option wasn’t a threat.
So there were some odd decisions happening in this sequence because the package had success against Oklahoma State with a running back and two tight ends in the game.
Out of this alignment, a quick screen pass was a better option than the QB power and counter called by Gilbert that left Texas in a third-and-long situation.
After the early failures, Gilbert went away from the package in an obvious situation for it when facing a 3rd and 2 from the Oklahoma 15-yard line. The play call wasn’t even a run, as Shane Buechele tried to find Armanti Foreman on a hitch route and threw a costly interception.
Strong likes the package and clearly wants to keep using it, but Gilbert has to do a better job of finding the flow of the game with it and using effective personnel and formations.
Taking out the running back and Blueitt and refusing the throw the ball in favor of trying to spread out a defense that doesn’t have to respect the pass or an option threat were not effective decisions.