In football, the margins are often slim for every team that isn’t the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The difference between a failed play and a successful play comes down to each player executing their role, which requires coordination between 11 different players.
When the Texas Longhorns were driving against the Baylor Bears late in the third quarter with a 23-17 lead following a Baylor touchdown, a 30-yard run by freshman running back Keaontay Ingram flipped the field and set up a potential scoring situation.
Two plays later, the Horns faced a 1st and 10 from the Baylor 22-yard line. With the field compressed just outside the red zone, Texas needed to operate at an efficient level to score a touchdown to extend the lead and provide some breathing room.
Head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck called a play-action pass with a pulling offensive lineman to provide protection and senior tight end Andrew Beck and junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey running seam routes hoping to catch Baylor with one player defending two receivers.
As the Bears did for most of the game, one deep safety provided help over the top of junior wide receiver Collin Johnson and another deep safety bracketed Humphrey.
The important communication on this play was between junior center Zach Shackelford and senior right guard Elijah Rodriguez. One of those linemen was supposed to pull on the play based on the defensive front — mimicking the look of power and providing protection for junior quarterback Shane Buechele. Given that Texas had run power more than normal with Buechele in the game, it was a call that made sense and was aggressive enough to pick up significant yardage. Perhaps even score a touchdown.
Because there was a miscommunication with the protection call, neither player pulled, with Shackelford stepping hard to pick up the defensive tackle as Rodriguez attempted to engage with the same player.
As a result, the playside defensive end was unblocked, which made the play look like it was packaged — an inverted veer read — and that player was the read player. Of course, the Texas line was pass setting, so it was a play-action pass all the way.
Rodriguez realized the mistake fairly quickly and disengaged in a late attempt to block the defensive end. So, at the least, Shackelford thought that Rodriguez was the lineman who was supposed to pull.
“I think it spooked Shane a little bit on that play, which caused him to have to hurry that throw,” Beck told me on Wednesday.
Indeed, even though the defensive end didn’t come hard upfield against Buechele, the junior quarterback threw the ball quickly. Too quickly, it turned out, as Beck didn’t get his head around before the ball arrived.
The blur behind Beck is the football about to skip behind him. Notice as well that it appears Humphrey was more open than Beck on the play. Had Buechele been more cool under pressure, perhaps he would have noticed that Humphrey could have scored a touchdown on that play with a good throw.
So instead of a first down to Beck or a potential touchdown to Humphrey, Texas was behind the chains with a 2nd and 10. The drive stalled at that point, as Ingram gained three yards on the ground and then two yards through the air to force a 34-yard field goal attempt by freshman kicker Cameron Dicker.
The kick missed left and the Longhorns left points on the board. Neither team scored for the rest of the game.
One of the key questions after Texas managed to hold on for the victory was what happened to the offense in the second half. Besides two missed field goals by Dicker, what happened were too many plays like this one — a good call by the coaching staff, but just not executed particularly well.
The hope moving forward is that the offense will increase its level of execution to avoid leaving so many of these plays on the field.
The anticipated return of sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger on Saturday against Oklahoma State should help, as would a more comfortable Buechele in his second appearance of the season.