In 2011, the first touchdown for the Baylor Bears in a shocking 48-24 demolition of the Texas Longhorns came only 22 seconds into the game when Robert Griffin III hit Kendall Wright for a 59-yard touchdown pass.
On Sunday, Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will try to take advantage of an equally vulnerable Notre Dame secondary that features two players in junior Drue Tranquill and senior Avery Sebastian who aren’t as athletic as their younger back ups, in part due to injury issues that have sapped some speed.
And that’s why that second play that former Bears head coach Art Briles ran against the ‘Horns nearly five years ago has so much bearing — it provides a blueprint for how Texas can exploit the Notre Dame safeties.
On the play, Baylor spread the field with four wide receivers and motioned the running back into the backfield just before the snap from the short side where Wright was lined up in the slot. The linebacker responsible for the curl-flat routes in the two-deep zone coverage motioned to safety Blake Gideon that a possible vertical route from Wright was his responsibility.
Yet, even with the depth of Gideon on the play, once Wright attacked him vertically, the Baylor wide receiver got the Texas safety turned around. When that happened, the play was over.
Notably, Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly is playing Sebastian and Tranquill, a 225-pounder who may be best served near the line of scrimmage, because he believes that they won’t make mistakes in assignment.
But when lined up against Longhorns junior wide receiver Armanti Foreman, freshman wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who runs a verified 4.38 40-yard dash, or former quarterback Jerrod Heard, the sophomore who recently changed positions, how much of a chance do players like Tranquill or Sebastian have against that type of speed?
Heard already has a proven ability to run past defenders like sophomore nickel back PJ Locke — a strong athlete who posted a 34.4-inch vertical leap in high school — for a 50-yard touchdown in the second scrimmage on a vertical route from the slot (video at 1:18 mark).
Since those types of touch passes are the forte of freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, look for the ‘Horns to try to exploit the weakness of the Fighting Irish secondary when he’s in the game and throughout the entire game.
That’s not necessarily even an opponent-specific game plan for this offense since it employs such strategies as a matter of course, but it could play a big factor in creating the explosive plays offensively that Texas needs to pull off the upset.
As Scipio Tex pointed out at Inside Texas, Notre Dame believes that the limitations of the starting safeties won’t define a defensive effort led by a strong front that could dominate a Texas offensive line that is less experienced and has three starters dealing with ankle injuries.
In taking a calculated risk with his older, slower safeties, Kelly might be underestimating Gilbert’s scheme and the Texas skill position talent available to execute it.
“We’ll just call it, they’ll ball it,” as Gilbert likes to say.
Spread ‘em out, send fast guys up the field against ‘em. Simple. Gilbert calls it, the speed guys ball it.