In the college football world, bowl games are unlike any other game — both teams have four or more weeks to prepare, get healthy, and tweak schemes on both sides of the ball, but there’s still a regular season worth of film on opponents. So the dynamic is quite different than season openers that could feature new coordinators and assistants and always feature players in new roles as coaches try to predict what will happen based primarily on last year’s film.
On Tuesday, when the Texas Longhorns face off against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, the task for head coach Tom Herman and his coordinators will be to find ways to give their players an advantage over the talented and well-coached Bulldogs thanks to those four weeks of preparation.
At least on the offensive side of the ball, senior tight end Andrew Beck thinks that Herman and coordinator Tim Beck have discovered some areas the Horns can exploit.
“It’s going to be interesting to see,” Beck said last week. “I think there’s a couple of ways that we can attack their defense that they’re not used to seeing. They’re smart coaches — I’m sure they’ve got some tricks up their sleeves as well. It’ll be a good game, I’m excited for it because our teams are built a little bit differently.”
This season, Herman and Beck have shown an ability to take advantage of tendencies shown on film. Against TCU, for instance, a formation with junior wide receivers Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey to boundary and Devin Duvernay to the field produced the expected coverage. With Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson worried about Duvernay on the post route, he shaded the deep safety towards Duvernay.
Patterson regretted that decision after the game because it gave the Horns exactly what they wanted — a one-on-one opportunity for Johnson on a post route when the boundary safety stayed over the top of Humphrey. Given the opportunity, sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger put the ball on Johnson’s diving fingertips for a key touchdown.
Beyond that specific anecdote, Herman and Beck could use Johnson and Humphrey lined up next to each other as a way to ensure that Georgia won’t be able to bracket both with safeties. In those situations, Texas can produce big plays against one-on-one coverage like it did against TCU.
There are also two sub packages that the Horns used late in the season that could play a role in the game plan.
One featured speedy freshman wide receiver D’Shawn Jamison motioning into the backfield to take handoffs. Against Kansas, that package produced two carries for 14 yards by Jamison and could introduce some wrinkles against Georgia. Both were Power reads for Ehlinger riding Jamison at the mesh point
An obvious wrinkle off this play would be a play-action pass with the Power run look to hit a shot play to Duvernay. The Longhorns also showed screen pass to Duvernay to the field in the package, so there could be a run-pass option in that package as well.
The other look is the jumbo short-yardage package with an extra offensive lineman and two tight ends. In the Iowa State game, Texas was able to create a three-score advantage by using that package on a 3rd and 2 from the Iowa State 27-yard line. The first read was to sophomore tight end Cade Brewer on a route up the seam, with the second read to Humphrey on an out route. When junior quarterback Shane Buechele found Humphrey on that play, the big wide receiver broke a tackle and found the end zone.
As Andrew Beck mentioned, the other consideration for Tim Beck is recognizing how Georgia might tweak its defense with coordinator Mel Tucker now the head coach at Colorado.
“It will be interesting, obviously, for us as a coaching staff of how they change,” said the Texas offensive coordinator. “So perhaps tendencies will be a little different. Philosophies may be a little different. I don’t think the technique and overall coverage and front of what they are going to do, but maybe when they do it, maybe some new wrinkles, we expect that.”
The absence of star cornerback Deandre Baker and groin injury to Jack linebacker D’Andre Walker could also influence the choices that Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart makes about his defense.
The bottom line for the Longhorns, however, is the need to take advantage of any shot plays or sub packages intended to create explosive plays against one of the best defenses in the country at limiting explosive plays.
“We’re going to have to be able to get the ball to our playmakers, and they’re going to have to make plays,” Beck said. “It goes back to what I said. When we get those opportunities, there may be five, there may be ten. Through the course of the game, we’ve got to make those plays, whatever they are. Whether it’s a down-and-distance deal or whether it’s a, ‘Hey, I’ve got a one-on-one with Lil’J’ for the first time all game and we’ve got to make those things count.”