When the Texas Longhorns hired co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand away from the Auburn Tigers in January to provide a boost to the line and the running game, the question was how much Hand would really impact the offense.
Throughout the 2018 season, that’s been a fairly elusive question that hasn’t received a ton of attention, in large part because the offense has been so effective.
But I wanted to know what changes Hand has made in terms of technique and what tweaks he’s made to the running game, so that was a major focus for me on Tuesday during the media availabilities.
To start, I pressed junior center Zach Shackelford on the changes instituted by Hand.
“Every offensive line coach kind of has their techniques they go to, but I think his vast knowledge of the game,” Shackelford told me about Hand’s expertise. “He has so many different experiences in terms of coaching offensive line. He’s been through so many different scenarios. I’ve said this before, but there’s never any scenario that he hasn’t already been through. So it’s nice to have that knowledge behind you.”
Basically, what Hand does is bring his depth of experience to bear on the details — the small steps and the small changes in technique that can ultimately make a big difference in the running game.
“It can be a simple thing like where you place your feet on inside zone, it can be like a matter of inches,” Shackelford said. “It’s pretty complicated — it’s a game of inches. Anything like dropping your first step on your initial get off, it can make the world of difference in terms of getting movement, power, and leverage on defensive linemen. Just the way that he teaches us to combo block and stuff like that is very technical. He brings a lot to the table. He always has a technique he teaches us to finish a block off or to wall a guy off or something.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck also cited Hand’s experience of tweaking small elements of the blocking when I asked what Hand has changed this season. The base running plays have stayed the same, which isn’t surprising since virtually every team around college football runs inside zone and power and counter.
The difference this year is that the presence of senior tight end Andrew Beck has allowed the coaching staff to call power more often and more effectively, but that doesn’t have anything with Hand, particularly — that’s about better health.
The subtle tweaks by Hand are about the blocking assignments of each play, which vary based on the defensive front. He can see how teams are defending specific running plays and then make recommendations about which players to double team, like the nose tackle or the three-technique defensive tackle.
So while there’s value to making those calculations based on film before games, there’s also the element of being able to see and understand what’s happening once the bodies start flying in the trenches. Hand does that well because he has such a depth of experience.
“This guy did this, we need to play it like this,” Beck said. “And it’s like this, we need to block it like this. That’s been big, and that’s helped us.”
One example was the touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger against Iowa State on the first drive. The offensive staff called a quarterback run play with a little twist — graduate transfer left tackle Calvin Anderson pulling around the right side.
Rarely is Texas in 10 personnel. 85 split wide hints at a jump ball. 5 split wide just to occupy a guy. 84 has two guys on him. ISU fully expecting pass— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) November 19, 2018
Leaving 5-on-5 again. Anderson pulls and blocks LB, Ehlinger makes unblocked LB miss, scores. Run play the whole way #HookEm pic.twitter.com/P8uOUCMzzn
A huge aspect of college football is playing copycat. Successful offenses watch the tweaks made to certain plays by the best minds around the game and then steal those ideas.
Texas installed that action this season because other offenses are using it as a response to odd fronts — instead of pulling a center or a guard, as is common on power, the tackle pulls because they’re uncovered. Pulling an interior lineman would produce much more difficult blocking angles against that particular front, but because redshirt freshman right tackle Sam Cosmi did his right forcing the defensive end outside, Anderson was able to make the key block.
Instead of wasting an unused tackle on the back side of the play, the new installation got another blocker at the point of attack, providing some concrete evidence of how Hand has helped the running game in exactly the ways that head coach Tom Herman desired when he pulled the well-traveled assistant away from Auburn.