Deep Analysis in the Heart of Texas’ Offense
With all the commotion surrounding the ongoing Texas coaching situation, it’s easy to give Texas and Mack Brown a complimentary emotional advantage in the Alamo Bowl. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as the Brown storyline will overpower the media line coming into the game, the overall disappointment surrounding Oregon’s promising season when at point they were ranked as high as #2, with leading Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota at the helm.
No BCS bowl on the line for Oregon in 2013, but there is still much left to play for, with the Dec. 30th Alamo Bowl vs. Texas. When it comes to actually figuring out which team will win the game though, it’s a bit more difficult to give Texas that same advantage as the headlines that the Longhorns will clearly dominate in the lead-up to the game.
On film, the Longhorn ground game is easily the most important part of the Texas offense, a concern considering Oregon’s inability to shut down the ground game of opponents in the last few games of the regular season. With linemen like seniors Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins on the left hand side of the line, and a deep group of running backs led by former five-star recruit Malcolm Brown, Texas will look to power the ball down Oregon’s throat, much in the same way that Stanford and Arizona were able to overpower the Ducks’ defensive line.
The Longhorns will look most similar to Oregon fans to that of the 2013 Arizona Wildcats in terms of offensive approach, in that they should be able to run the ball efficiently on Oregon’s defense, but will be handicapped by an under-talented signal caller. Of course, the same things were said about Arizona’s B.J. Denker heading into the Ducks’ matchup with the Wildcats in November prior to Denker’s career day, but Texas’ Case McCoy does not nearly have the same athletic ability that Denker utilized against Oregon, and will not have the same user-friendly scheme that Arizona implements. Therefore, barring a career day, don’t expect a Denker-like performance.
Texas’ offense combines the ever popular no-huddle scheme with a traditional running game, but will use modern formations to open up lanes for their running backs. Against Baylor, Texas really had no problem moving the ball on the ground.
In the play shown above, Texas runs a simple zone run play out of the pistol formation. Notice how each of Texas’ offensive linemen get perfect positioning on the Baylor defenders and use their bodies to create shielded running lanes for Brown, who navigates through the defense perfectly up to the second level.
This became a recurring theme throughout the game vs. the highly-ranked Baylor Bears, a team built eerily similar to Oregon in multiple aspects. The Longhorns love running the ball off the left hand side behind their two best linemen, and can really utilize their size and speed advantage with the zone running game.
In this play, the pistol formation included a lead blocker. The up-back starts some misdirection as he blocks across the formation to the weak side, while the zone play is set up on the other side of the line. Brown found the crease and accelerated through the hole quickly for another good gain.
Texas can also utilize the power play as a nice complement to the zone run scheme. In the play above, notice how the left tackle finishes up his block on the defensive lineman and then moves to the second level to seal off the backside of the defense. If Oregon’s linebackers aren’t quick to the hole against Texas, Brown might be the next running back to run over the Duck defense, completing the trifecta of a frustrating season that saw its high hopes end on the feet of Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Arizona’s Kadeem Carey.
But again, just like Arizona, Texas’ passing game is nothing short of anemic. It took quite some time for McCoy to even complete a pass downfield against Baylor, and whenever the Longhorn offense was bumped off-schedule by even the slightest margin, Baylor was able to put pressure on the offensive line and force McCoy into some ill-advised throws. This is almost exactly the same predicament Arizona’s offense found itself in before facing the Oregon defense.
On this third down and long, McCoy is faced with a seven man blitz, leaving one-on-one coverage across the board for all of McCoy’s elite receivers. Texas’ pass protection should have assigned the running back to the unaccounted man that came off the offense’s left hand side. The running back came up to protect the interior of the offensive line for some reason, hesitated when he saw the rush from the flank, and ended up not blocking anyone on the play.
In the back’s defense, McCoy didn’t handle the blitz well either. Instead of either taking a sack or throwing the ball away, he chucked the ball up, not even “for grabs” but literally to only where the defender could make a play on it. Perhaps his receiver ran the wrong route, but in the drives preceding this one, it became obvious that McCoy simply isn’t going to cut it for a struggling Texas offense. However, with a month to prepare for Oregon’s defense, perhaps McCoy will find a way to overcome his shortcomings and present his best performance, just as Denker did for Arizona.
After watching the defense get shredded by Oregon State, Arizona, and Stanford, Texas’ running game may rub a lot of Duck fans the wrong way. There is definitely still a valid argument that McCoy’s job will become a lot easier once Texas softens the interior of Oregon’s defense, and with Oregon’s pass defense already looking for replacements, it’s hard to imagine Texas being held out of the endzone for nearly the entire game, like they were against Baylor to end the season.
Unless something has radically changed over the past few weeks for the Oregon defense, it will be up to Oregon’s offense to win the contest, a potential shootout for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.