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Anatomy of Success: The Perimeter Run Game Against Kansas

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Looking at how the Longhorns tied the game early in the fourth quarter against Kansas by going to the jet sweep game for the first time.

Darren Carroll

The Context

Four consecutive punts after the opening drive resulted in a touchdown gave way to four drives spanning the end of the second quarter and into the third that essentially ended in turnovers -- an interception, a fumble, a turnover on downs, and another interception.

The Texas coaches decided a change was necessary, warming up junior back up Case McCoy late in the third before sending him in to start the first drive of the fourth quarter with the 'Horns trailing 14-7.

After stopping a nine-play Kansas drive that went for only 25 yards, but took more than four and a half minutes, sophomore cornerback Quandre Diggs fair caught a punt at the Texas 16.

The Plays

1st and 10 Texas 16

The 'Horns come out with Case McCoy in the Pistol on his first play, with freshman Johnathan Gray behind him, two tight ends, and two receivers to the field side. Kansas responds with an eighth player just outside of the box on the field side and the deep safety on the hash, with the corners in soft coverage.

Texas runs a zone play to the boundary, the overwhelming tendency in co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's attack, and the plays look like it is blocked reasonably. Gray runs off the shoulder of sophomore center Dominic Espinosa and gets tackled by the player engaged by the center. It looked like the freshman back could have bounced it outside for a bigger gain, as the safety was filling the gap Gray cut through, but senior offensive tackle Luke Poehlmann's block could have given Gray a choice of running lanes on the outside.

Three yards on the play.

2nd and 7 Texas 19

A personnel change for Texas, as senior fullback Ryan Roberson and senior jet sweep specialist DJ Monroe come onto the field, with one of the wide receivers leaving. Now with McCoy under center, Roberson in the offset I, and Monroe to the top of the screen on the boundary side.

Kansas comes out in a similar look, with one safety eight yards deep and shaded to the field side and the extra near-box player now on the boundary.

As Monroe comes in motion, the boundary cornerback wheels out to the deep safety position, while the field safety heads towards the line of scrimmage to match the Texas numbers to the strong side.

The critical block here is that of Roberson, who will be responsible for the safety coming downhill.

The Texas offensive line blocks the zone play to the boundary, forcing the defensive end to respect the run in that direction, leaving the safety as the one player with a chance to blow up the play.

Roberson gets his block, forcing the defender to spill Monroe in hopes that the pursuit can catch up with the speedy back. The playside linebacker gets there and trips him up, but not before Monroe rips off 11 yards. The boundary player that wheeled out to the deep safety position took a good angle and would have been able to tackle Monroe to get him from scoring, but how close the 11-yard gain was to being even more yardage illustrates just how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands.

1st and 10 Texas 30

Still in the Pistol with Gray as the tailback, Texas now has three receivers to the boundary in a triangle formation. Kansas responds with an edge player to the field and the linebacker shaded to the run tendency on the short side, with two deep safeties shaded that way as well. The third linebacker in lined up with coverage responsibilities on the short hash.

Texas breaks tendency to run the pin-and-pull to the field side and junior guard Mason Walters gets his block, but Espinosa can't account for the Will 'backer shooting a gap and hitting Gray for a loss of two yards, as he was more worried about a defensive linemen who moved down the line of scrimmage after reading the play from the backside, actually quite a nice play on his part.

1st and 12 Texas 28

The Longhorns stay in the Pistol, with two wide receivers and the tight end lined up outside the left tackle. McCoy either audibles or at least calls for the shift from the tight end, redshirt freshman MJ McFarland, moving him to the top of the formation as an H-back.

Kansas shifts their defense over a gap and has two linebackers in the box and only one defender to the top of the screen -- favorable numbers for Texas in that direction, which McCoy may have identified in his pre-snap call.

Senior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin comes in motion from the bottom of the screen and McCoy flips him the ball in what is technically considered a forward pass, then carries out the run fake to Johnathan Gray in another attempt to hold those linebackers as long as possible.

As with Monroe's run, the key block here is again on the edge, this time McFarland against the cornerback lined up above junior wide receiver Mike Davis at the top of the screen. McFarland doesn't dominate his opponent, but he does do a nice job of spotting his assignment, breaking down as the cornerback attempts to take an angle inside of him, and then getting just enough to spring Goodwin around the edge, who reads the block well.

The cornerback loses leverage on the play and fails to spill the play inside as the safety did on the Monroe run, giving Goodwin a free run down the sideline.

Now it's on to Davis taking on the safety well downfield, as the playside linebacker takes a poor angle and never has a chance.

The speed of Goodwin blows up the poor angle from the backside linebacker, as Davis, like McFarland, gets enough of his opponent for Goodwin to stay on the sideline past the defender while breaking an arm tackle and turning a 12-yard gain into something much more.

A Kansas defender finally takes a proper angle, hitting the afterburners to finally force Goodwin out of bounds after a monumental 41-yard gain that helped swing Texas fortunes in the game.

1st and 10 Kansas 31

It appears that Texas again has Monroe in the game with Roberson again at fullback, and the tight end lined up on the boundary side with McCoy under center. Basically the same look as on the earlier Monroe run, except with sophomore running back Joe Bergeron making his first appearance on the drive.

Texas shifts the tight end to the boundary side while the field side walks up towards the line of scrimmage for Kansas, which has a defensive back in the box as a linebacker.

Monroe comes in motion, but the ball goes to Bergeron as Roberson takes out the unblocked defensive end on the zone play blocked towards the boundary. The playside linebacker fills a bit hard and gets caught behind the defensive end who is blocked well by Roberson.

Kansas senior safety Bradley McDougald, their best defensive player along with end Toben Opurum, is now on the line of scrimmage after coming up to take away the motioning Monroe. Bergeron sees the cutback, hits it, and makes McDougald miss with a nifty little slide cut to the outside as McDougald takes out the recovering linebacker. It's not a footrace to the edge between Bergeron and a safety, with the Texas back stiff-arming and eventually shedding the defender just past the first-down marker and then punishing another.

It was by far Bergerson's best run of the day and perhaps his best run this season in terms of effectively using his vision to hit a cutback.

1st and 10 Kansas 14

Texas goes back to the Pistol with Gray back in the game, two wide receivers to the field side, and both tight ends on the to the boundary. Sophomore Greg Daniels shifts to the field, while senior Barrett Matthews goes inline on the near side.

Kansas has Texas outnumbered in the box with a defensive back to the field side coming on a run blitz. Texas runs zone inside, and blocks well on the play side, but can't combo to the backside linebacker, leaving him to clean the play up three yards downfield.

2nd and 7 Kansas 11

Texas shows an unusual formation with McCoy under center, freshman Daje Johnson at tailback, one receiver split to the field side, and a three-receiver bunch to the boundary featuring Roberson lined up beside Goodwin in the triangle bunch.

Kansas has a three-down line with two force players, two linebackers, and a defensive back as the eighth man in the box. However, the safety bails out just before the snap to take a deep alignment, while the other safety heads towards the boundary in run support based on the Texas tendencies.

Goodwin and Roberson break out of the bunch as McCoy fakes the handoff to Johnson and gives it to Goodwin instead. What's important to note here is that the unblocked force player has committed to the inside run fake, tacking himself out of the play, while the linebackers freeze for the same reason.

The right tackle looks to seal pursuit, the wide receiver is coming inside to find an opponent, and Roberson heads out into space with only the cornerback in his field of vision.

Davis gets just enough of the safety by forcing him back inside, Goodwin cuts around those two players and inside the block of Roberson, a good read since the defender has succeeded in spilling the Texas ballcarrier. Problem is, since the playside linebacker was frozen earlier, he can't make it outside in time to catch Goodwin before he finds the endzone from 11 yards out.

Final Totals

7 plays for 84 yards, 3:23 elapsed. The three carries inside for only four yards for Gray were a sharp contrast to the three carries to the perimeter that netted the majority of the yardage on the drive -- 63 in fact, though the push pass to Goodwin that picked up roughly half the yards was technically a pass.

The one carry for Bergeron that he bounced outside was much more successful, requiring several broken tackles and dragged defenders to pick up the 17 yards.

Two key blocks on the edge by Roberson and one by McFarland, meaning that Texas executed each one of the three crucial edge blocks that needed to succeed for the plays to succeed in turn.

The Verdict

Head coach Mack Brown admitted that he didn't know why co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was so slow to attempt the perimeter run game after giving zero carries to Goodwin, Monroe, freshman Daje Johnson, or junior Jaxon Shipley through the first three quarter in the jet sweep game.

Asked the same question after the game, Harsin said that he was waiting to set it up, adding that the blocking on the play is more important than the ballcarrier. Apparently the quarterback change was exactly what he needed to complete the setting of the stage.

Whether one believes Harsin and accepts those answers is a matter of personal preference. The problem is that it's been essentially the same story nearly every week.

Other than some success against Baylor, the Texas running game between the tackles has not been particularly successful, yet Harsin still shows the same desire to establish it every game, all while ignoring the perimeter run game that was so successful early in the season before Oklahoma State started overplaying it and taking it away.

The desire to establish a physical mindset and win those battles at the point of attack is a noble and understandable desire, certainly, but at some point Harsin has to admit that it isn't working in the way that he wants it to and start taking advantage of all the speed at his disposal. What Would Chip Kelly Do, so to speak.

Taking three quarters to set it up isn't a satisfying explanation, because getting bailed out at the last minute by something that should have been an integral part of the gameplan isn't satisfying.

Both Mack Brown and Harsin said on Monday that Ash's struggles weren't all of his own doing due to multiple other failures offensively, though the lack of a perimeter run game wasn't mentioned. Perhaps it should have been.

While some fans were crediting McCoy for his "control of the offense" and "spark" brought to the field, it was really the perimeter run game that Texas a chance to be in a position to execute the game-winning drive.