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Texas vs. USC: Coach’s Corner

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Can the ‘Horns turn this thing around?

NCAA Football: Texas at Southern California
How is this not a penalty
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

How much do you think TH will reconfigure the offense during the bye week? BB

After watching the film, it looks like the offensive line needs some time to work on communication and technique. Before the injury to left tackle Connor Williams, the offensive line was actually performing fairly well. Texas had three drives (5 plays for 43 yards, one-play interception, three plays and a fumble). The turnovers stopped Texas on two of those drives, not pressure or inability to run the ball.

So far this year, Texas has lost both offensive tackles and its top two tight ends. Having that many injuries along the front six is a disaster for most college football teams. Its obvious that these injuries have set Texas back. The good news is that junior tight end Garrett Gray showed improvement each week prior to his injury and could be back for Iowa State.

Senior offensive tackle Tristan Nickelson has consistently improved as well. Watching the game, it seemed that the offensive line continued to gel as a group as the game went on. It also seemed like Texas was shying away from their true bread and butter in the run game due to the tight end situation. That has to get resolved in some way for this offense to be productive, but like Herman said, these are not things that can be fixed during the game.

Having more first-team reps and being able to develop that chemistry will improve the performance of the offensive line, including the tight ends. While running drills and getting a few reps in a practice does help develop a player, there is no replacement for first-team reps, where most of the focus is in practice. Having an extra week to get these players up to speed will surely help this offensive front quite a bit.

In all, I think it gets better after the bye week, but how much better is the question. If Texas is going to compete against the Oklahoma schools in the coming weeks, they will have to find answers to these problems, and I am hopeful that they will, at least enough to be competitive in those games when accompanied by a strong defense.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of depth and experience at those positions, in addition all of the injuries, there are still going to be growing pains in this offense for the foreseeable future.

Coach did you notice our kickoffs were much deeper? Burnedsince61

No, I didn’t really notice. I was surprised that the staff was content to kick to what may be one of the most dynamic return duos in the country. I think they would have been better off just kicking the ball out of the end zone. This shows that Joshua Rowland is indeed capable of that feat. Also, last time I looked, Mitchell Becker is still on the football roster. His 37.5-percent touchback rate was about average last season.

So when USC scored in the first overtime on the double post, was Texas in two high? Seemed like Boyd should have man’d up but was expecting help over the top or did I read it wrong and Brandon Jones blew coverage? — TexasFromHell

It appears from what can be seen on the film that Boyd got beat on this one, but it is also worth noting that this is a terrific play call and great execution by the USC staff. I would give them the credit there. They saw the coverage and called the perfect play for it.

Texas is in two high on this play. It looks like a quarters coverage, but there is trips to the field side. The two outside receivers both run posts with the tight end going to the flat. DeShon Elliott and Brandon Jones are the safeties. In this scenario, the boundary safety is checking the No. 3 receiver to the field side. Since that receiver releases to the flat, the boundary safety should check No. 1 to the boundary, who appears to be well covered as well. This results in him “robbing” the inside post, so the boundary safety (I am not sure which one was the boundary in this case) seemed to be playing it correctly.

The field safety has No. 2 to the field side man to man on any vertical route. He has to go with No. 2 here, and cannot provide help on No. 1. In the event the boundary safety does not “rob” here (which the field safety wouldn’t know), that’s an easy touchdown pass. With No. 2 going vertical, Kris Boyd has No. 1 man to man with no help. I don’t think that he is necessarily expecting inside help, but he is playing an outside technique on the receiver. When the receiver breaks to the inside, he is really in no position to catch up and make a play on the ball.

My belief is, in football, there are times where pounding a number of three-yard runs may eventually wear a defense down, open up some bigger runs later or help open up the play action.

Questions:

1. How many times will/should a good coach keep trying before it does become insane?

2. Is this good coaching philosophy to excuse the lack of run game calling away as "we don’t want to be insane"?

3. Is the current state of the run game an indicator of a bigger problem? For example, the offensive line is really bad and we cant run. So coaches are scheming around it. Etc Luke Madsen

The answer to your first question is dependent on your definition of success. A three-yard play is a good thing in my book. I don’t have a meter that measures how many times you go to the same play before recognizing it’s not working, because every offense I was ever a part of used complimentary plays to set up other parts of the offense. If the defense was crashing inside hard, we would stretch them out with the outside stretch/jet sweep or a quick screen pass, then get back to the inside zone or power game.

The key here is to diagnose the issue and correct it. Maybe it’s a missed block or maybe it’s the defense taking a certain play away, but either way, the coaches have to get those issues corrected and go back to the run game. I guess to answer the question, insanity is really when you stop doing running the football because it’s only averaging enough to get a first down in every four-down set. I think that answers the second question.

I think the answer to the third question is that our tight ends are having trouble blocking, so the coaching staff is trying to figure a way to deal with that. Complicate that with the injuries on the offensive line, including Williams (the one player we really could not afford to lose this year), and it can make play calling very difficult for even the best offensive coordinator. I don’t think the offensive line is really that bad, but I do think the injures have put the group behind where they should be.

Sam Ehlinger did good things and bad things. How far along is he for a freshman? Seems like Shane Buechele was further along in his first game last year than Sam thus far. Luke Madsen

Compared to most true freshmen quarterbacks, I think Ehlinger is ahead of the game. Some of his issues with turnovers can be attributed to the coaching staff (play calling) and the well-documented issues on the offensive line. He definitely grew up in the second half of the game, and on the last drive, he looked like a seasoned veteran. He is definitely capable of doing great things at Texas, but he won’t do them on his own. He will need a run game and an offensive line, not to mention receivers who can make plays.

Many of those pieces are on campus right now, and things could get interesting this season, regardless of who the quarterback is for Texas. I don’t think its fair to compare Ehlinger to Buechele because they are in totally different scenarios. Buechele had a pretty good offensive line and a Heisman finalist at running back last season. Still, I don’t know that his performances against Cal and Oklahoma state last year were significantly different than Ehlinger’s game at USC.

USC beat Stanford the same week Texas toasted San Jose St. Stanford lost to SJSU the next week. USC had issues vs. Texas. Did you see a USC team as advertised or is this Notre Dame 2.0, except we lost this time? Luke Madsen

Many people have asked me this question. The teams you are referring to are two different teams. Texas beat San Jose State. Stanford lost to San Diego State. Both are from California, so who cares, but San Diego State is a better football team than San Jose State. In fact, they beat Arizona State as well.

There is no denying that the USC offense is good. They have 10 to 11 NFL-caliber players on their offense and a few on defense as well. I think their defense is going to wind up being better than we gave them credit for. Their defense has excellent team speed. When you look at it, the USC defense has allowed a few big plays this season, but not much else. If they can clean up the big plays, they might win out. If that happens, I don’t see them beating Alabama, but I think they can compete with any other team in the country.

On the road…top-four team…why doesn’t a coach kick the field goal and try to walk away with the points in the red zone on fourth down? Luke Madsen

There are different philosophies out there on going for it on fourth down in field goal range. The bottom line is that Tom Herman thinks that he has a 50 percent (there is a whole statistical analysis of this, but I am simplifying) chance of getting a touchdown if he goes for it on fourth and less than three from inside the 30-yard line. If he kicks, he has a seventy to 80-percent chance at three points. This might be lower because Joshua Rowland had not successfully kicked a field goal at that point in the season, which may have also played into the play call.

That means if he goes for it twice, he would statistically score a touchdown once, netting seven points (assuming the PAT). If he kicks the field goal he has a statistical point value of 4.8, assuming an 80-percent success rate. Based on this philosophy, you get more points going for it than kicking the field goal. Even at a 100-percent success rate, seven is more than six, so you get the point. I still say take the points, unless I just have lost all faith in my kicker, then find a new kicker. I have seen some pretty good ones on the intramural fields, and I think Becker was on the sideline that game.

Hot route after a game like Saturday, what do you option to: bourbon, whiskey, or wine? Tickle Tackles

Firestone & Robertson in Fort Worth has a real nice bourbon they call Tx. I am fairly partial to this one, but it tastes too much like victory. I just went and cried in a pillow until I fell asleep.

Realistically, if the offensive line’s performance against USC is going to be the norm for the the season, what options do we have? Bubble screens? Tickle Tackles

For this offense to be effective, it will have to run some run-pass options and establish a short screen game. Even with that, if Texas cannot run the football, it is going to be hard to sustain drives and score points. I mentioned it above, but the coaching staff needs to learn to accept the three-yard plays for what they are and take the long methodical drives.

The offense will hit home runs, and they will hit more if the run game is functional, but I think where this offense is right now, it is going to look more like the San Jose State game. Their scoring drives there were: 9-57, 6-89, 10-77, 16-92, 4-67, 3-19, 11-79. Three drives of 10 or more plays, and I for one loved the 16-92 drive. I think that is really what opened up their offense for the rest of the game. They need to do more of that.

I understand we were getting to USC quarterback Sam Darnold quite well, but why did we call a delayed blitz that cleared out the underneath route defensive option? Tickle Tackles

I was not a fan of the last-minute defensive calls during USC, but both of these situations are busted coverage. In the Maryland game, the boundary side flat defender is standing on the numbers about five yards from the LOS with a 3rd and 19. There isn’t even a threat out there. He needs to be deeper in order to make the quarterback’s passing lane more narrow. In addition, the cornerback should make that play. He was in position, but just didn’t finish the play.

The play in question versus USC, the linebacker has to get hands on the reciever and prevent the inside release. He must follow him inside because there is no help in there with trips to the opposite side. The linebacker allows the free release, which allows the reciever to get over the middle before the coverage can react or the blitz has time to be effective.

Against USC, the linebacker to the field side is in coverage and releases deep. He has to get hands on the No. 4 and follow him on the crossing route, knowing he has no help to the inside. Instead, the receiver gets a free release and has a lot of room to run.

Who has the final call? Obviously, TH and Beck work together on the game plan during the week. But during a game like USC, how much do you think TH went along with Beck or overruled him. On one hand, he didn’t throw Beck under the bus. But either he’s a complicit as Beck in agreeing with the weak calls OR he’s overruling Beck and calling weak plays. Which is it? — Thor’s Brother

I don’t think Herman is calling the plays. He is involved with the play calling and knows what plays are being called, but he should be focused on managing the game. He can’t be one of the horses, he must be holding the reins. Clearly, Herman has the authority to tell Beck what to call, or take over his play-calling duties even mid game.

I think the less you override your coordinators the better, but I do believe in giving them some strategical guidance throughout the game. Something like, “Hey lets see if we can get something going with the inside run game here” or “The defense looks tired, lets take a shot.” My opinion is he should have done more of that on Saturday with Beck, but who knows what conversations were being had at that time.

How is that not a penalty? — Everyone

Section 9 ARTICLE 2. a. No person subject to the rules shall strike an opponent with the knee; strike an opponent’s helmet (including the face mask), neck, face or any other part of the body with an extended forearm, elbow, locked hands, palm, fist, or the heel, back or side of the open hand; or gouge an opponent (A.R. 9-1-2-I).

Section 9 ARTICLE 4. No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.

Note 2: Defenseless player (Rule 2-27-14). Examples of defenseless players include but are not limited to: A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.

So 1st and goal Texas from the 6-yard line? I’ll leave you with that.

That’s all for this week folks. Thanks for reading, and keep the questions coming.