UT wide receiver Collin Johnson goes through drills during the first Spring practice at Denius Fields on Monday March 7, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Will new Texas offense be on pace to pile up points?

Posted March 11th, 2016

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The pace of Texas’ new offense nearly matches the Longhorns’ urgency to win football games this fall.

Nearly.

New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has the Horns running plays as if they had a train to catch, and that’s a good thing considering the conditioning needed on both sides of the ball to perfect this scheme.

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Watching Monday’s first practice of the spring season I saw two parts football and one part track meet. The Horns were clocking about eight seconds between plays as 300-pounders on both sides of the ball were spotted sprinting — yes, sprinting — back to the line of scrimmage to get lined up for a play that was literally coming in at the same moment.

Will it work? Well, it has for Baylor and Oklahoma, which have operated at similar speeds recently. It remains to be seen if speed will fulfill the need for more points, and of course, more wins.

Of course, Charlie Strong is all-in with this offense. He has to be. He understands that the time for staff overhauls has reached an end because annual do-overs don’t ultimately lead to long-term success.

Mack Brown ran into this problem near the end of his tenure, when he took quarterback Garrett Gilbert out of the familiar spread attack he ran in high school and asked him to direct a power running game. Mack was intoxicated by the ease with which Alabama moved the football against Texas in the 2009 national title game, but what he failed to grasp was that it wasn’t Bama’s methods that led to its success but the fact that Tide coach Nick Saban consistently stuck with the same formula that had worked for him for years.

For his part, Strong is enjoying this conversion. Question is, will he enjoy it in the fall if we’re seeing consecutive three-and-outs that put more pressure on a defense that’s done most of the heavy lifting during his coaching tenure at UT?

“The good thing about it is each guy has to listen because he has to look to the sideline and get the call,” Strong said. “And it makes the defense have to get aligned where they have to get their feet on the ground also. So there’s really no lull in practice, but each and every play guys are going and getting aligned.”

Strong has basically come over to the dark side and that’s not a bad thing. The last time I checked, the Big 12 was still an offense-first conference. This was a move Strong thought was needed because Texas’ passing offense had been below average or worse since he arrived on campus. Anyone who follows the Big 12 knows that sooner or later you’re going to have to add a pilot’s license to that CDL. If you can’t throw it in this league, you can’t win in this league.

Here are three absolute necessities for this offense to take off:

  • The right quarterback. Strong has seemingly jumped into a time machine because he’s heaping the kind of early praise on Tyrone Swoopes that we heard last preseason. You all recall that it took Swoopes all of one game to lose his starting job to Jerrod Heard. If Swoopes is more confident in his skin as a starter, that’s great for Texas, though Heard is still the much better play-maker.
  • A productive No. 2 receiver opposite John Burt. There are plenty of candidates to man that post, but the one with the biggest upside has never played a college game. Freshman Collin Johnson isn’t a burner, but he’s 6-6 with long arms and great hands. I see him playing from day one.
  • A dependable offensive line. The line has to handle this pace while opening up holes for runners and protecting the quarterback. Strong is always harping about being physical and having the edge in toughness, which will be difficult with this pace. I asked guard Kent Perkins how this offense could maintain that physical edge while playing at breakneck speed.

“We’re practicing at it now, so it’s going to be a habit by the time the season comes around,” Perkins said. “We’re going to be in great shape, and the thing is, we want to get the defense tired. When you get them tired, they line up wrong … we’re running the play, and they’re still trying to line up and get settled. We’re like, ‘Let’s go,’ basically.”

There isn’t a lot of time being spent between plays, but thankfully Sterlin Gilbert has six months to get it down to a science for the opener against Notre Dame.

And what if it doesn’t work?

Then time will really start to run short around here.

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