On Monday, Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer scanned his memory banks to find a Texas Longhorns offense as physical as the 2016 group.
Eventually, he came up blank, calling new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s attack the most physical group of Longhorns he’s seen since arriving in Stillwater.
By the way, Spencer has been an assistant under head coach Mike Gundy since 2008.
In scanning through the recent history of the Texas program, there hasn’t exactly been much competition.
When Spencer arrived from Raleigh as the defensive line coach nine years ago, the Longhorns achieved success with the short passing game from Colt McCoy to star wide receivers Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley.
The run game was basically an afterthought, as short passes like hitches that McCoy made based on pre-snap reads were considered an extensive of the running game.
The 2009 team was much the same before head coach Mack Brown overreacted to the loss to Alabama in the national championship by directing offensive coordinator Greg Davis to make an ill-fated change to a more run-oriented offense.
Texas finished 75h in rushing S&P+ and missed a bowl game in 2010.
Still intent on establishing a physical running game, Brown hired Bryan Harsin from Boise State to take over the offense. After improving to average in 2011, the ‘Horns made the jump all the way to No. 23 nationally in rushing S&P+ the following year.
Then Harsin bolted at his first opportunity, perhaps because of the broken culture in Austin under Brown.
Under Harsin’s successor, Major Applewhite, the Texas offense had to shift to cover up the weaknesses of Case McCoy following David Ash’s concussions, but was able to run the ball effectively at times behind Donald Hawkins and Trey Hopkins on the left side of the line.
Ultimately, however, the Longhorns regressed to the mean once again in rushing S&P+.
Over the last two seasons, the biggest struggle has been in fielding an experienced and competent offensive line — 2014 saw the injuries and suspensions and the 2015 season required two true freshmen starters.
Well, that and establishing a coherent offensive system, though the ‘Horns certainly made strides in the physicality department last season under Jay Norvell, especially with the installation of the 18-Wheeler package.
Now that the offensive line is more mature and possesses depth for the first time in years, Texas is taking advantage of Gilbert’s veer-and-shoot offense to force opponents into difficult choices about resource allocation and, for the most part, punishing teams that don’t have the size up front to deal with former Freshman All-Americans Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe on the left side.
Throw in the Smash Brothers at running back — all 500 or so pounds of them — and it’s even more clear that Spencer is right.
This is the most physical Longhorns offense in the last nine years and that fact should hearten those still hoping for a run at the Big 12 title.