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Tom Herman explains the offensive game-planning process

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The Longhorns have largely struggled in recent games coming up with effective opening scripts.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

With declining offensive production since scoring 50 points in regulation against the Kansas Jayhawks last month, the play-calling and game-planning processes for Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck are once again a topic of conversation.

On Monday, Herman described a game-planning process that includes input from analysts and assistants.

Offensive analysts like Jordan Salkin, who was temporarily promoted to the coaching staff last year when Beck was ill, are responsible for the deep digs into opponents, like how defenses align against certain formations based on factors like the placement of the running back and the alignment of the tight end.

On Monday morning at 7 a.m., the staff splits up, with co-offensive coordinator/offensive lien coach Herb Hand, tight ends coach Derek Warehime, and associate head coach/run game coordinator Stan Drayton meeting in the offensive line room to discuss what Herman called “game thoughts.”

Meanwhile, Herman meets with Beck, former North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora, and former Kansas State offensive coordinator Andre Coleman meet “kind of watching formations for big-picture blitz tips, front tips, coverage tips, who are they from a personality standpoint.”

Pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer and wide receivers Corby Meekins split off to study opposing personnel in the secondary to decide who the Longhorns want to attack, how they want to do it, and how opponents adjust coverages to different formations.

“This is all just first and second down, what we call ‘CNN’ — competitive normal normal — meaning the game is still competitive, you’re not breaking down film of a 45-0 ball game with third stringers in there, the field position is normal, it’s not backed up and not red zone or goal line and the down and distance is normal, so 1st and 10 and 2nd and 7 or less and situationally we look at third down, red zone, goal line, and off-schedule, which would be first and more than 10 or second more than eight,” Herman said.

The staff re-convenes about three hours later for a round-table discussion that combines the run and pass elements of the emerging game plan. By Tuesday morning, the staff has narrowed the game plan down to 12 runs on first and second down, for instance.

“It could be inside zone, but from three different formations and wide zone from a different formation, and then you try to have a couple of quick game passes, a couple of move the pocket passes, a couple of deep play-action shot passes, a couple of screens, and a couple of intermediate drop-back passes where your throw game package on first and second down is somewhere between 14 and 16,” Herman said.

On the field during games, Herman is heavily involved in the play-calling process — he and Beck have been coy publicly discussing how many plays Herman calls in a given game, but even though the staff trusts junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger to make a number of calls at the line of scrimmage, it’s ultimately Herman’s offense.

How well has the staff been game planning recently? A look at the first two drives of every game this season reveals that while the Longhorns got off to a solid start with the scripted plays put in during week, production has declined since the win over the Jayhawks.

Texas opening offensive drives

Opponent Plays Yards Result
Opponent Plays Yards Result
Louisiana Tech 1 7 57 TD
Louisiana Tech 2 5 49 Fumble
LSU 1 4 27 Punt
LSU 2 8 73 Downs
Rice 1 12 82 TD
Rice 2 7 90 TD
Oklahoma State 1 9 35 Punt
Oklahoma State 2 9 66 TD
West Virginia 1 16 51 Missed FG
West Virginia 2 2 27 TD
Oklahoma 1 3 -12 Punt
Oklahoma 2 9 47 Punt
Kansas 1 8 65 TD
Kansas 2 10 72 TD
TCU 1 12 80 FG
TCU 2 5 16 INT
Kansas State 1 9 39 Missed FG
Kansas State 2 3 9 Punt
Iowa State 1 3 3 Punt
Iowa State 1 3 1 Punt
Total 144 877 45
Average 7.2 43.5 2.25

On the season, Texas is averaging 7.2 plays, 43.5 yards, and 2.25 points per possession on the first two drives — solid numbers. However, after scoring touchdowns on five of the first 10 opening drives this season, the Longhorns have only scored two touchdowns during the last 10 opening drives, both against the Jayhawks. Texas has also punted five times, turned the ball over once, and missed a field goal.

Other than the opening drive against Kansas State, Texas has been flat-out awful in the last two games, culminating with two three and outs against Iowa State that produced a combined four yards.

To put it simply, the Longhorns offensive coaching staff simply isn’t doing a strong enough job of game planning how to effectively attack opponents to start games, so that’s an area where the staff needs to improve as the season winds down.