As a precursor to this article, I would like to state that I am aware that Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman does not care what I think.
I would also like to state that I started working on this article immediately after the announcement of the hire, but was unable to complete it due to multiple issues. This is in no way a response to anything Herman has said — it is simply my own take on the hire of offensive coordinator Tim Beck at Texas.
Certainly, there are questions about bringing Beck to Austin. Those questions are reasonable, especially considering that a search of Ohio State media content will reveal a consistent bashing of Beck as the scapegoat for the football program’s recent shutout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoffs and his contributions to the decreasing offensive production for the Buckeyes in 2015 and 2016.
This blame is only natural, as Beck was the new addition to Urban Meyer’s staff in 2015. Naturally, Meyer has had sustained success at the highest levels of college football running offenses, and his offensive line coach, Ed Warinner, was a big part of the Tom Herman offenses, which ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the offensive S&P+ in 2013 and 2014. Clearly the newest member of the team is to blame for the drop in production, despite the fact that Beck was known to have absolutely no play calling duties at Ohio State, right?
Not so fast, my friend. Sure, it seems logical that when a new co-coordinator is brought in and production drops, he is responsible. That is not what happened here.
A review of the statistics will show that the blame lies in the move from a clear commitment to the smash-mouth spread approach, including a run-first emphasis, in favor of a more modern fast-paced offense with a more prolific passing game.
A review of interviews with Meyer over the past couple of seasons, including his Fiesta Bowl post-game interview reveal that Meyer has been committed to an offense with a more prolific passing game and more pace for some time.
Even after beating Notre Dame in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl 44-28, Meyer seemed focused on making his offense more like the shiny Camaro than the old four-wheel drive pickup truck offenses of old, when he said the Buckeyes needed to make some changes.
It doesn’t seem that Beck was too keen on those adjustments, which likely was a trail out the door, but when the statistics are reviewed, it shows that a less prolific running game, especially in passing situations resulted in higher-pressure down and distances, and an overall reduction in productivity for Ohio State offensively.
We can start by looking at the most simple statistic — rushing yards. In 2013, when Ohio State was second in offensive S&P+, the team totaled 4,321 rushing yards. In 2014, Ohio State ranked No. 1 in offensive S&P+, and totaled 3,967 rushing yards.
Conversely, in 2015, Beck’s first year at Ohio State, the offense only totaled 3,188 yards rushing, despite a comparable year to 2014 by then-star running back Ezekiel Elliot, who totaled 1,821 yards in 2015 compared to 1,878 in 2014. In 2016, the Buckeyes totaled 3,188 yards rushing, strangely the same exact number of rushing yards the team totaled in 2015.
Despite the decreased overall yardage in the rushing game from the 2013 and 2014 seasons to the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the rushing S&P+ was consistently good throughout those seasons. The Buckeyes were first in rushing S&P+ in both of Herman’s season at the helm of the offense (2013 and 2014) the Buckeyes ranked eighth in the category in 2015 and third in 2016.
How often the Ohio State offense opted to use the run did change significantly during those years — 57 percent during the 2014 College Football Playoff Championship run before increasing to 59 percent in 2015.
In 2016, however, the run percentage decreased to 54.7 percent.
The simple conclusion that can be drawn based on these facts is that the Buckeyes run game was good. It was consistently good during the 2013 through the 2016 seasons.
How the run game was used, however changed through that same time period. This can be observed through first looking at standard down S&P+. A passing down, according to the S&P+, is defined as anything that is either a 2nd and 8 or more or a 3rd and 5 or more. All other downs are considered standard downs in that metric.
Analyzing the Buckeye’s standard down S&P+ begins to further support the belief that the reduction in the use of the running game in standard-down situations contributed to the offense’s decreased production in the past two seasons.
The Buckeyes ranked No. 1, No. 2, No. 9, and No. 14 respectively in standard down S&P+ in 2013 through 2016. During that same time period, the team ranked No. 2, No. 1, No. 14, and No. 23 in overall offensive S&P+. Notice that this is beginning to look like a trend. As the Buckeyes are less successful in standard-down situations, their offense becomes less successful overall.
Now looking at passing-down situations, the Buckeyes were No. 18, No. 1, No. 26 and No. 29, respectively, in the four-year period analyzed in passing down S&P+. Additionally, the passing S&P+ for the team decreased drastically in 2015 and 2016, going from No. 2 in 2014 to No. 26 in 2015 and No. 64 in 2016.
I know, I know, now everyone is thinking, “Well coach, you got it all wrong, clearly the passing game is degrading and that is the cause of the offenses demise. This is directly attributed to the quarterbacks coach who is... Tim Beck.”
This belief is not correct because the running game sets up the passing game.
The reason for the passing game’s continuous decline in success in the 2015 and 2016 seasons is that the offense put itself in bad situations by not executing in standard-down situations. This is often referred to by football people as the offense getting behind the chains. Or essentially being in second or third-and-long situations.
Let’s circle back to the issue of how decreased success in standard-down situations leads to less success overall.
Why is this?
The answer is quite simple — when a team is unsuccessful on the most standard of downs, 1st and 10, the offenses gets forced into a passing down. Ideally, these 2nd and 8 or 3rd and 5 plus situations are outside the norm, but as the standard-down efficiency decreases, the predictable passing situations increase.
This results in two forces that serve as major disadvantages for offenses — predictability and pressure.
As a coach or offensive player, a 3rd and 1 (this is based on two successful standard-down plays which will be explained later) is a fairly comfortable position. Essentially the entire playbook is available — the pressure is low and predictability is low.
As the offense is less successful on the standard-down plays, it results in much less comfortable situation, like 3rd and 5 or more. Obviously, the greater the distance to gain, a smaller portion of the playbook is available to the coaches. This results in higher predictability and higher pressure on the offense.
Those two forces are exactly what a defensive coordinator is trying to create. Coordinators can zero in on these situations as opportunities, sending in defenses specifically designed to create havoc and confuse the offense, which is already feeling some heightened emotions due to the pressure created by the down and distance.
All of this results in a much lower likelihood of success for the offense, and perfectly explains the struggles in the passing game Ohio State has experienced over the last two years.
They were situational, created by a play-calling scheme that moved away from gaining yards with a successful rushing game on first and second down (like my ‘83 F150) to an offense with more focus on throwing the ball on early downs, looking for a big play (like my neighbor’s shiny new Camaro).
Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with throwing the ball on early downs, but the focus must be on two things. First, using short, high-percentage passes the majority of the time, and second, when a shot is taken on first down, a plan must be in place for making up for the unsuccessful play on 2nd and 10 by using a standard-down play in a passing situation. That sets up the third and short, in which every offense is comfortable and confident.
So that leads into the discussion of what exactly is a successful play. As defined by the S&P+, a successful play is a play which gains 50 percent of the necessary yards to gain on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or forth down.
So, ideally, an offense would gain five yards on first down, four on second, and one on third for a 100 percent success rate. Notice that an offense with a 100-percent success rate is never in a passing situation.
Now back to the failed long ball on 1st and 10. Now facing 2nd and 10, the offense needs seven yards to be successful on second down and whatever remaining yardage is necessary on third. It is also worth pointing out that 2nd and 10 is surely a passing situation and the 3rd and 5 or greater which is more likely to result than if the first-down play had been successful would also be a passing down. These two unfavorable situations are key contributors to Ohio State’s decrease in passing efficiency and passing down efficiency.
Instead of taking calculated chances on first down, with a second-down contingency ready to get back ahead of the chains, the offense is choosing to continue down the path of destruction with further play calls that lead to more difficult long yardage scenarios for the offense.
The key to the Ohio State 2014 success in the passing game was the fact that they were confident that they could get the required yardage to get back ahead of the chains even if the first down play was not successful, and they had a plan for each four down sequence. That was Tom Herman’s way of doing things, and it still is. He has a plan, and he will execute that plan, methodically.
Beck is part of that plan, and he is in full alignment with the concept of keeping the running game paramount in staying ahead of the chains.
How do I know this? Because Herman has said it time and time again — his top priority in his coaching search is alignment. Herman has also hired his former Ohio State assistant, Stan Drayton as associate head coach, running backs coach, and run game coordinator.
I personally believe that the Drayton hire is an even bigger hire than the Beck hire. Why is Drayton not the offensive coordinator? The answer is continuity. Herman believes Drayton will be a head coach in short term. He does not want to replace an offensive coordinator that quickly.
Based on the entire happenings surrounding the assembly of the Texas offensive staff, I can conclude that the process was led by one vision — a powerful spread offense focused primarily on a sound running game that creates situational advantages creating opportunities in the passing game.
This is the exact formula that led the Buckeyes to the 2014 National Championship and the No. 1 offense according to the S&P+ under Herman. Based on projected roster for the Longhorns in 2017 and beyond in addition to this commitment to the same formula that led to Herman’s at Ohio State, I personally would not be surprised to see similar success at Texas in the near term.
Tim Beck understands this. He and Herman already know exactly how this looks and have a plan for success. That plan looks a lot like “run the stinkin’ football.”
And that, Burnt Orange Nation, is exactly why Beck is the perfect hire for being the next offensive coordinator at the University of Texas.