It’s no secret that the Texas Longhorns offense struggled for much of the game on Saturday night against No. 4 USC. Some of that was to be expected with a true freshman quarterback starting in only his second game, on the road, against a very good opponent. The youth at quarterback is then magnified when the running game is not productive and the pass blocking is inconsistent.
Why is the offense struggling so mightily? Why did Texas abandon the run game so easily against Maryland and USC? Here are a few plausible underlying causes of the issues.
In February, I detailed the issues that Tim Beck had at Ohio State. At the time, I believed that the transition from running the football to a more fast-paced, pass-heavy offensive approach were the doings of Urban Meyer, and that Beck would be more committed to the run at Texas. It has been reported that Beck was not calling the plays at Ohio State, but it could be that he did have some influence on the tendencies away from the run game.
The solution to this problem is not necessarily to get a new offensive coordinator. It’s worth pointing out that Tom Herman has a headset and knows every call the offense is making prior to each play. He also has the authority to over ride that play call if need be. He can influence Beck to stay committed to running the football, and he should.
Herman is also responsible for developing his coaches. He is responsible for overseeing how they perform all of their duties and teaching them how to do them better. He should be doing this with Beck. He should be aligning Beck on the offense, and when to run, when to pass, and when to call which type of run or pass. This should be a consistent evaluation, with feedback, both in games and in the meeting room, just like he would coach a player when they make a good play or a mistake.
Anyone watching the game on Saturday can see that the offensive line struggled for much of the game. While some of that may be due to Beck’s quick abandonment of the downhill running game, I personally, kind of feel sorry for Beck here. I have been extremely critical of Beck and Herman’s offensive scheme. I began watching film, and it became clear that one major issue for this offense is that the offensive line is clearly struggling to execute on virtually every play that is called. Despite the struggles, I just don’t feel it’s fair at this point to pass judgement on their performance in the USC game.
Many of these struggles are due to fundamental issues, including footwork and blocking technique. There are also times when communication is the culprit. The reason why I feel for the coaches in this situation is simple. Injuries have dismantled this offense. How easy it is to forget that two of the starting six (including the tight end here) blockers for the Longhorns were lost for the season before it ever even started.
After the losses of Garrett Grey and Connor Williams, the offense is literally playing the backup to the backup at both tackle and tight end.
So imagine that — of the six starters most heavily involved in the blocking schemes for Texas, three were not the starters that Beck had in mind during fall camp. Now, I know, we’re Texas and our fifth string walk on center should be able to come out and dominate any player on the USC defensive line, but then I pinch myself, and realize that is simply a pipe dream, even during the best of the heydays for this program.
Before this season, Tristan Nickelson had six career starts, Zach Shackelford had nine, and Jake McMillon had five. Patrick Vahe had 19 career starts, but his struggles, especially against the better competition were well documented.
In fact, Vahe lost his starting job to McMillon for a portion of last year. Denzel Okafor, the replacement for Connor Williams, has not started a college football game. Bring in the tight end position, where Kendall Moore had four career starts in his three years at Syracuse and Cade Brewer is a true freshman, and you can really see just how inexperienced this offensive line is.
Now the flaws in technique start to make sense.
The miscommunication starts to make sense, and the difficulty in calling the plays starts to make sense. It can become very challenging calling plays, when you as the coach are unsure if your personnel can execute a number of plays in the playbook due to simply not having enough reps in practice. These players take time to develop, and the value of first team reps at the collegiate level, and better yet, game reps cannot be understated. The quality and quantity of the second team practice reps are simply nowhere near the same.
Aside from all of that, the offensive line as a unit requires time to gel. Any team needs time to get to know each other. This helps each member understand the others strengths and weaknesses, learn things like the stride length of their partner on combination blocks, and learn how to communicate better. This simply leads to better execution. How many reps has the group Texas was playing with Saturday night spent together on the field at the same time?
The good news here is that Texas has a week off this week to help get some of those reps in and resolve some of the issues in their offensive line and play calling. The offense seemed to being to settle in during the latter parts of the USC game and find a little bit of rhythm.
If that can continue throughout the bye week and into next week’s conference opener, and the defense continues to improve each week, this could be a fun team to watch for the remainder of the season.