The veer and shoot is more than just a spread offense that operates at a breakneck pace, as coordinator Sterlin Gilbert showed on Saturday against the Baylor Bears in opening with two tight ends and then showing some other successful tweaks.
Of course, playing senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes at running back wasn’t one of those successful tweaks, but there were some positive results out of the changes.
Utilizing two tight ends and working star running back D’Onta Foreman out of the pistol were intended to take advantage of a Baylor defensive line that suffered massive losses after last season. In addition to having the extra blocker, running from the pistol instead of the shotgun allowed Foreman to build up more momentum approaching the line of scrimmage and have more time to use his excellent vision.
As a result, the junior set career highs in attempts (32) and rushing yards (250) in averaging 7.8 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns.
The increased usage of both tight ends also led to Gilbert dialing up two passing plays to target junior Andrew Beck, who responded with a key touchdown in the fourth quarter that brought the ‘Horns to within two points of the lead.
One of the criticisms of the veer and shoot is that it doesn’t utilize the middle of the field — the crossing routes that make Air Raid offenses like the one that Kliff Kingsbury runs at Texas Tech simply aren’t a part of it.
Against Kansas State, the hitch route was ubiquitous, as 11 of freshman quarterback Shane Buechele’s 17 completions were hitches. Three more were screen passes.
The route tree used by Gilbert is pretty simple, generally only including five or so routes — slant, hitch, post, out, go — but the Longhorns haven’t used the slant or skinny post much to attack defenses.
Until the Baylor game.
Junior wide receiver Armanti Foreman’s 51-yard catch and run that resulted in a fumble in the second quarter came on a skinny post. Not just a skinny post, but a skinny post/inside zone run-pass option.
Since Texas was gashing Baylor in the running game, the safety to the boundary cheated up on the run and Buechele read him, then delivered a perfect strike to Foreman, who had beat his man.
The pistol formation changes up the timing on run-pass options like bubble screens, but the skinny post takes a bit longer to develop, so it’s a perfect fit with that alignment.
Another nice combination that produced a big play was a slant under a go route to beat man coverage again and convert a rare third down on the play. Junior Lorenzo Joe took that catch 61 yards, a career long for the wide receiver.
One of the reasons the veer and shoot can have so much success is because defenses are spread so wide, but to fully take advantage of that width, the ‘Horns have to run a greater variety of routes than just hitches and go routes.
On Saturday, Gilbert made the adjustment, and it paid off in a big way, so hopefully both plays will receive more usage moving forward.
The simplicity of the offense is a major appeal and obviates the need for a playbook, but it is still necessary to change things up a little bit every once in a while to catch a defense off guard or pivot a bit to take advantage of a weakness.
In a game that came down to a game-winning field in the final minute of action, those decisions by Gilbert played a significant role in the outcome by producing four important plays for Texas.
Overall, it was probably the best play-calling performance of Gilbert’s short tenure at Texas and showed a willingness to diversify beyond 10 and 11 personnel with the quarterback in the shotgun that is the typical look in the veer and shoot.