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Breakdowns in fundamentals hurt Texas offense versus Kansas State

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From the eye control of the quarterback to technique along the offensive line, the Texas offense failed to execute against Kansas State.

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The reality for Texas Longhorns football right now is that young players don't develop in a linear way, a fact that became all too apparent last weekend against the Kansas State Wildcats.

The most obvious and most important example of those struggles was sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who took a major step back after delivering an even 800 yards of total offense in the previous two games before putting up only 137 against Kansas State.

From the start, Swoopes didn't look composed in the pocket, reverting to some of his self-sacking tendencies and becoming much too concerned with the pass rush.

"I think that would be true in this last game," Texas play caller Shawn Watson said on Tuesday. "Up until this last game, he wasn't that guy. He's got to keep his eyes down field on the safety. He's been really good at it, and he got a little out of kilter this last game."

The breakdown in eye discipline for the quarterback happened for a good reason -- though Kansas State got some pressure off the edge because of poor pass protection from the tackles, there were also defensive linemen running free as a result of basic line games.

"He started seeing the rush because they were running a lot of twist games on him and a couple of guys broke free," Watson said. "He's just got to re-center himself. The number one thing he has got to do in his development is learn how to protect himself with his feet. That begins by throwing on time and making decisive decisions."

Of course, the ultimate problem resulted from the struggles of the offensive line. Will those issues get fixed in due time? Watson thinks so.

"It's all correctible," he said. "All of those things that are associated with their issues are all things that are tied to their fundamentals and techniques, basically. That gets back to, as a player, the fundamental process of becoming a player --learning what Joe [Wickline] is trying to teach in those pickups and how to manage those pickups because there's not one guy involved. Most of the time, there's a minimum of two, if not, three. That's something I know Joe is spending a lot of time working on. One of the things as a younger player, it's one of the things for a younger, inexperienced player to learn how to manage."

But Swoopes was right there with the offensive line in struggling with his fundamentals, as the Texas quarterback also struggled with some of his easier reads in the game in addition to failing to keep his eyes down field at times.

"Our decision game is really easy," Watson said. "We basically make one guy wrong, and he's got to trust that. He's got to center himself and get back in his place when those things happen. Saturday it was a chore getting him back in it. He's got to keep his eyes key through the safety and let the safety take him to his work."

The passing game was what Watson was referring to in this particular instance, but it also applies to the more traditional zone read elements of the offense. Early in the season, Swoopes was too conservative with when he would pull the football. Against Kansas State, the same thing happened again, perhaps in part because Swoopes was out of sorts for other reasons.

Check out the screenshot just after Swoopes hands off the ball on the 3rd and 2 play that immediately preceded the game-changing fourth down early in the fourth quarter.

missed zone read swooped

On this play, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller slow played it to make the read more difficult for Swoopes -- he wasn't crashing down on the play to give an obvious keep read, but he also wasn't keeping wide to give an obvious give read.

In this instance, the color commentator thought Swoopes could have picked up a big gain, but in reality he'd most likely meet Mueller close to the line of scrimmage, though he had shrugged off a sack attempt from Mueller earlier. If he kept the ball in this situation, he had a good chance of putting his head down and picking up the first down, as he weighs as much as the Wildcat defensive end.

Another element of this play to consider -- check out the two Kansas State safeties sitting back deep in coverage, unwilling to commit to a run read from the offensive line. This is just how committed Bill Snyder's team was to keeping the Longhorns from producing big plays, a strategy that relied on the first two levels of defense to stop the Texas running game. It ended up paying off since the Horns gained only 90 yards on the ground, with the longest run of the game a 16-yarder by freshman D'Onta Foreman.

But as Texas was preparing for the next play, Swoopes was still in the huddle with six seconds left on the play clock, another instance of a lack of awareness from the sophomore.

Then, the fourth-down play had another breakdown in technique and fundamentals along the offensive line.

One of the keys coming into the game was the ability to run inside zone and Power effectively, something that the Longhorns haven't managed to do consistently this season. The call for running back Johnathan Gray on 4th and 1 in this situation was Power, with junior tight end MJ McFarland leading through the hole and redshirt freshman right guard Darius James following on the pull.

Unfortunately for Gray, James completely whiffed in the hole on the second player to hit Gray, which helped to keep the Texas running back from clearly picking up the first down.

The two elements that the Longhorns couldn't control here? Kansas State defensive back Dante Barnett coming unaccounted from the backside of the play to hit Gray right at the line of scrimmage and the terrible spot by the officials.

Eight games into the season, it's frustrating to continue seeing the types of breakdowns that occurred in Manhattan after two weeks of solid growth. Unfortunately, that's just part of the process for an offense that includes a quarterback who barely played before this season and an offensive line that had lost almost every returning start from last season by the BYU contest.

"We've just got to keep working," Watson said. "We're still a work in progress, we're still having to deal with the hand that's been dealt us. We're still working. It's still a process, and it's going to be for a while."