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Uncomfortable realities emerge about the Texas Longhorns offense

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Correctly apportioning blame for Saturday's dud is difficult, but there are plenty of problems.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

In possessing the ball for less than 26 minutes against BYU and racking up only 258 total yards, the new Texas Longhorns offense often looked broken or at least completely unthreatening.

Down three starters along the offensive line, with limited depth at tackle, wide receiver, and running back thanks to dismissals and suspensions, without the team's best and most experienced quarterback, play caller Shawn Watson is operating with a roster that looks entirely different from what he expected when he arrived in January.

Given those constraints, the struggles were hardly surprising and the performance of sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was actually heartening at times as he showed solid accuracy on short passes and was able to make some plays outside of the pocket.

On the other hand, the game showcased a number of serious deficiencies for Texas, many of which weren't surprising after all the injuries and suspensions and some of which were frustrating from the standpoint of assessing the schemes currently in place.

The nation's most inexperienced offensive line clearly has some significant growth left after a poor performance that saw the Horns gain only 82 yards on 35 attempts. About half of those attempts went for two yards or less as Texas backs plunged repeatedly into the offensive line and were repeatedly met by a number of defenders.

Sophomore right tackle Kent Perkins has played at an acceptable level over the last two games and was the best Texas offensive lineman on Saturday night, but he didn't get much help from his teammates or the play calling.

There wasn't much variety in the Texas running game, for whatever reason, and the Power and inside zone plays that form the staple of the ground efforts at this time were extremely ineffective.

Junior offensive guards Sedrick Flowers and Taylor Doyle struggled when pulling, both missing contact twice apiece, with Doyle equally as bad with his other attempts to run block and pass block, whiffing on four total there.

Sophomore center Jake Raulerson didn't have any issues with his exchanges, though some of his snaps from shotgun were a bit lower than ideal, but he also had trouble in the run game with three misses on run blocks.

The two five-star running backs for the Horns weren't able to add much to the attack with little room to run.

While senior Malcolm Brown had one run of 14 yards on a draw play, his other 13 attempts produced only 12 yards. Brown wasn't able to break tackles or move the pile and didn't appear willing to try to hit any cut-back lanes. Junior Johnathan Gray looks roughly as athletic as he was before his Achilles injury, but breaking tackles and making defenders miss hasn't been much of a strong suit for him in college.

So the offensive line wasn't opening any holes, play caller Shawn Watson didn't include any misdirection, and there have been no attempts at introducing a perimeter run game to put defenders into conflict.

Even the use of the zone read was extremely limited, with one notably bad decision by quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to keep the ball. He was immediately hit by two defenders and lost several yards.

There was no Power read for Swoopes to work inside the tackles or let Johnathan Gray use his speed to the perimeter. There was only one quarterback draw. There weren't even any wrinkles to the zone read like using an H-back on the move to eliminate the read defender or another overhang player.

The fact that Swoopes showed himself to be a relatively average athlete who lacks the short-area burst and overall elusiveness may limit some of the quarterback run game, the more frustrating takeaway is that the best description for the offensive gameplan against BYU was extremely bland and generally lacking in any apparent imagination.

Watson hasn't attempted to use either running back in the passing game, either, as the two have combined for three catches through the first two games, even though getting the ball out to one or both of those players in the flat could give them more room to operate than the offensive line is currently providing.

And what has happened to junior wide receiver Marcus Johnson? As senior wide receiver John Harris has emerged on the outside as a player who can move the chains, but may not have the most reliable hands with three drops in two weeks and a fumble, Johnson hasn't been a big part of the passing offense.

Through two games, Johnson has only three catches for 26 yards. The playmaking ability that he showed against Oklahoma and TCU last season on wheel routes and the intermediate work down the sidelines on corner routes last season hasn't been there, either.

It's possible that the coaching staff doesn't believe that Swoopes has the accuracy to consistently hit throws of that depth and required trajectory. Against BYU, Swoopes tried to hit senior tight end Geoff Swaim on what looked like a corner route and didn't come particularly close to connecting on it.

The BYU defense that featured two deep safeties consistently, so Texas was either unable or unwilling to allow Swoopes to throw the ball down the field, limiting the passing game  to working within a short area of the line of scrimmage.

True freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Joe had a 22-yard catch in the second half that was the only play of the day for the Horns that went over 20 yards.

As a result, Swoopes averaged 5.7 yards per attempt on his 30 passes, the third lowest total in the country for players who have attempted at least 15 passes.

By contrast, there are 10 quarterbacks currently averaging 10 or more yards per attempt, including redshirt freshman quarterback JT Barrett, a player Texas passed on in the 2013 recruiting class in order to take Swoopes.

The loss of junior wide receiver Daje Johnson hurts there since he's the most dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, but sophomore wide receiver Jacory Warrick and true freshman wide receiver Armanti Foreman weren't a part of the gameplan on Saturday despite their ability to make plays in space.

And none of the starting wide receivers showed an ability to break tackles and turn short passes into long gains.

Head coach Charlie Strong has mentioned several times that he doesn't think offenses are patient enough to move the ball down the field slowly. The belief seems to extend to his offensive systems that are more than willing to attempt to move the ball down the field several yards at a time.

So while Watson did a commendable job with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville, the Texas offense has to try something different to produce big plays as the offensive line grows. Without a credible running game, the ability to draw up a safety and play-action pass over the top simply isn't there right now, a major impediment to those efforts.

And Watson's ideal attack places a lot on the quarterback in terms of reading defenses -- though his West Coast schemes have been adjusted for the college game, it's not an offense that a young, raw quarterback like Swoopes will be able to pick up quickly.

Therefore, for an inexperienced passer, the offense is difficult to fully grasp, while still providing little upside in producing big plays, as the emphasis is on moving slowly and staying ahead of the chains with short passes that sometimes turn into bigger gains by making defenders miss.

There's little to no pace to put pressure on defenses, there's little to no option football with more sophisticated zone read wrinkles or run/pass options, the personnel is generally heavy and working in a small space in the running game with little misdirection or variety, and the vertical passing game is non-existent because of scheme or preference or the limitations of the personnel.

Perhaps Watson is able to expand the attack this week with Swoopes now having played the most extended action of his college career. Perhaps the offensive line begins to gain some small level of mastery over more running plays.

Perhaps blaming a lot of this on the offense that Strong and Watson want to run is premature with all the other problems.

Or maybe these problems are exactly why Louisville wide receiver Devante Parker teed off against the Strong/Watson offense from last year that "didn't want to score anything."