BEVO BEAT

The Whys of Texas: Universal praise for the defense; the offense, not so much

Posted October 25th, 2017

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Usually, I have to put out feelers for The Whys of Texas submissions. Not this week.

Not after a 13-10 overtime loss that dropped Texas to 3-4.

Not after coach Tom Herman effectively raised the white flag on the 2017 season. “We’ve got an opportunity to send these seniors out with a bowl game, something they haven’t had the last two years,” he said after the game. A bowl game? This team is guaranteed nothing, unfortunately.

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Not after Sunday night’s news that Sam Ehlinger had suffered a head injury. Not after Monday’s confirmation that Ehlinger was going through the concussion protocol and that Shane Buechele will be back at quarterback.

There was universal praise for the defense after a bang-up job against the nation’s No. 1-ranked offense. Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, whom I expect to be playing on Sundays soon, threw for 108 yards in the first quarter. But Todd Orlando’s crew buttoned things up from there and left the Cowboys flustered.

As for the Texas offense, eh, not so much.

That show last Saturday generated submissions like this:

Very proud of our defense. Orlando will be head coach somewhere next year, Arkansas, Nebraska? Malik and DeShon will be playing on Sunday. I didn’t like Tim Beck when we hired him, even less now, and I’m starting to wonder about Herman because he hired him. New AD coming in. Another 3-year coach?

— Dan via email (UT, MBA class of ’75)

Lots to unpack there, Dan. Yes, I firmly believe Orlando will be a head coach at some point. He tried to get the Houston job when Herman came to Austin. Houston went with Major Applewhite. But T.O., as the players call him, is head coaching material, no question. As for a new athletic director, the current one, Mike Perrin, knows that his contract is up in August 2018. There’s been no official movement on finding his replacement. As for Herman, he’s got a five-year guaranteed contract, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the squeamish should turn their heads. Only those with cast-iron stomachs should venture forward.

Todd Orlando-Texas Longhorns
Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s unit is getting better as the season progresses. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

Since I can’t find an email address to vent frustrations to Coach Herman — no, I don’t do Twitter or Facebook — I don’t understand Coach Hermans love of Tim Beck. I’m a longtime Horns fan. Just watched another loss to Oklahoma State. Why aren’t we trying to run the ball more? With a makeshift offensive line, I would think it’s easier for the line to run block than be on their heels all the time. Our quarterback is always scrambling. When we do try to run and have success, Coach Beck goes away from it and gets pass happy. What does Herman have against Chris Warren? Supposedly Warren doesn’t practice well. So what!!! He shows up on game day. Coach beck is horrible at play calling. Let me know your thoughts. Frustrated!!!

— Leonard H. via email

First off, Leonard strikes me as a first-time emailer, long-time reader. And we appreciate that. After the game, Herman said, “Tim’s doing fine. I hired Tim because he’s very, very capable of doing this job. And he’s got a big task ahead of him. We do. We’ve got a big task ahead of us to right the ship on that side of the ball. And there’s no doubt in my mind that him and the offensive staff that’s in that room, along with myself, are the right guys to get that done.”

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. Is Beck truly the problem? Now before you go crazy, hear me out. He’s lost two starting offensive linemen (tackles Connor Williams and Elijah Rodriguez) and the starting tight end (Andrew Beck). What’s left of the offensive line is simply not that good. Both quarterbacks have now suffered injuries. No running back has really distinguished himself. And you expect the Horns to score 40 points per game?

Now, I’ve got my bones of contention. It was flat wrong not to use the 250-pound Warren on the goal line in double-overtime against USC. This staff learned its lesson, apparently, as witnessed by what happened on the goal line against Kansas State and Oklahoma. The constant rotation of running backs is maddening. Nobody can get into a groove. The constant rotation at receiver is just weird. And I wonder about the plays that force a right-handed freshman to roll out of the pocket to his left and throw across his body.

Herman knows he can’t let outside flames engulf his offensive coordinator. So expect to hear him defend Beck all season long. All head coaches defend their hires right up until the moment they shoot them between the eyes. That’s what Charlie Strong did right up until the moment he fired Shawn Watson after the season opener debacle at Notre Dame in 2015. That was in year two of the Strong era.

Tim Beck-Shane Buechele-Connor Williams
University of Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck is now working with two injured quarterbacks. Shane Buechele (7) had shoulder and ankle problems this season. Sam Ehlinger is going through concussion protocol. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

 

Curious on your thoughts as to why the offensive coaches seem to have a complete lack of identity this deep into the season? I realize the offensive line injuries have been catastrophic, but the lack of improvement in the guys that have been playing (on O-line) coupled with no discernible identity week to week seem to show an offensive staff that is completely lost. Does Herman wish he actually watched some film of last year’s team now to have an idea what the players do well on offense?  

On a lighter note, I and several alums we’re disappointed a few years back when the University went to turf rather than natural grass at DKR. Ask Herman if he has any plans to go back!  Recruiting can’t be the excuse — Alabama, OU, LSU, A&M, and TCU off the top of my head all play on grass.

— Wyatt J. via email

The lack of identity can be traced back to the injuries. But even with those players, I wasn’t expecting The Greatest Show on Turf. (Google St. Louis Rams for those who don’t know what that is.) In August, Herman said he wanted a pro-style offense that featured a power running attack. It’s clear this team abandons the run in games. And for whatever reason, Ehlinger has stopped attacking the middle of the field the last two (three?) games. That’s what really made me sit up and take notice against San Jose State. What happened to that?

As for the artificial surface, I just don’t see Texas ever going back to natural grass.

As much as I want the Horns to win, the following is apparent to me: 

1. Ehlinger is not a good passer — not even a fair passer. 

2. Ehlinger doesn’t take care of the football.

3. Alabama almost won the national championship with a freshmen in 16, so don’t give me “He’s just a freshman”.

4. It’s only a question of time before he suffers the same fate as Ash — concussions.  If Shane transfers at season end, UT faces another long year in 2018.

5. Herman talks a good presser but never-the-less, UT is still 3-4 with only an outside chance at having a winning season.

6. Doesn’t anybody in Austin know how to play this game?

— J.D. via email

Let’s focus on point No. 2 for a moment. A quarterback’s job is to always, always, always protect the football. And the bottom line for all you Ehlinger fans out there is that he hasn’t at crucial times. He was stripped at the goal line against USC pushing for more yardage. And he threw a game-ending interception against Oklahoma State when all he had to do was throw it away. Texas could have then tried a short field goal, which itself may have been its own adventure. Look, Ehlinger has terrific moxie and he’s going to grow more polished over time. This is life with a freshman quarterback. A true freshman at that, not a redshirt.

And as for point No. 6, J.D., don’t you read this mailbag? There are LOTS of people in Austin that allegedly know football.

I realize Texas is limited by the OL deficiencies, but they are very predictable. Off tackle or zone read right or left, then an out pass then punt. I’m still holding onto that buried Confederate General Theory about the total lack of trying anything in the middle. I hate OU, but I love watching their versatility and imagination on offense. Beck is showing us nothing. 

— Matt C. via email

If you’ll remember from earlier this season, it was suggested that the middle of the field at Royal-Memorial was “hallowed ground,” something not to be trampled on and thus avoided at all costs. Ha! That still makes me laugh. I will agree with the lack of imagination. I was expecting a little razzmatazz from Herman, who was touted for his offensive mind. Ohio State fans still lament the handful of years he was the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator. How about a backdoor pitch? A bootleg? Hook-and-lateral? Statue of Liberty? Heck, I say try the swinging gate at this point. The wildcat package with Heard was a dud.

Part of the problem is that these offensive linemen — the ones Texas is down to using — may not be that great at pulling and delivering kick-out blocks. That’s usually how you can generate some offensive ingenuity. I’m also not quite sure this offensive line could block for an 18-Wheeler package of plays.

You know who’d I’d like to see in the open field? Lil’Jordan Humphrey. That dude literally did it all at Southlake Carroll. I was disappointed that Sterlin Gilbert didn’t create something for him last season. It’d be great if Beck and Co. could do that going forward.

Where is the creativity that Coach Herman talks about needing to have when we have so many freshman playing on offense? I see no creativity whatsoever.

— Newt H. via email

Herman will gladly tell you know that Texas has a “freshman quarterback handing off to a freshman running back.” And there’s a freshman right tackle and freshman tight end. Here’s the problem with all of that. He said age was a non-factor in August. If you could play, you could play. And Texas fans are flat-out tired of hearing about how young the Longhorns are. The coaching staff somehow must find a way to make it work.

Oklahoma State defensive tackle Darrion Daniels (79) wraps up Texas running back Chris Warren III (25) on Oct. 21, 2017. Warren picked up 15 of his 33 rushing yards on one fourth-quarter play. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

To have a run game YOU HAVE TO CALL RUNNING PLAYS. If Texas loses this game (against Baylor) the season is over. Mike Perrin and Greg Fenves will see half-filled stands at best for Kansas and Texas Tech. Just to think we could have hired James Franklin 4 years ago. Steve Patterson destroyed Longhorn football. Hook ‘em

— Dan B. via email

Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that former UT President Bill Powers wanted to hire James Franklin, who was coaching at Vanderbilt, to replace Mack Brown? Then-athletic director Steve Patterson wasn’t sold on Franklin, though. He initially liked UCLA’s Jim Mora. As we all know, some wanted Nick Saban, which was never going to happen. Powers was never going to hire Saban. He wasn’t convinced Saban did things above-board. And no, Saban’s wife never bought multiple houses in Spanish Oaks, although that still remains my all-time favorite rumor. Anyway, Powers and Patterson hired Strong in January 2014.

You hit the nail on the head, Dan, about the running game. You actually do have to call running plays to see if your running backs can gain some headway. Herman loves to throw the statistical totals out at reporters, saying that Warren “averaged 2.8 yards per carry” and all that. Yeah, coach, but did you know Warren came into this season averaging 7 yards per carry in the fourth quarter for his career? Granted, those were the totals in 2015; he missed most of last season with a knee injury.

My point is this coaching staff doesn’t give the running game a legitimate chance to be successful. How about that drive against OSU where Warren started things off with a 15-yard gain? What happened next? Three straight incomplete passes and a punt. Whatever. Give it a chance.

This guy, “Herman” is a piece of work. He’s done more to wreck a player’s  (Buechele, Rowland, Johnson, Foreman, Warren, etc.) psyche, than any coach I’ve seen. I hope we don’t have a mutiny (abandon ship).

— Nat B. via email

To be honest, I haven’t thought about it from a psyche standpoint. But I will say it’s hard to imagine these players jumping ship. They’re closer now to winning than they ever were the last few years. If that’s motivation enough, nothing is.

I like QB Sam but he is not playing for Westlake anymore and Coach Herman needs to make a change before we go to Waco because Baylor is ready to win their first game.  And the reason the Texas receiver didn’t go after the ball in OT was because they thought QB Sam was going to throw the ball out of bounds.  Now, why didn’t we call time out when it was third down? And have a plan in place!!!

— Curtis F. via email

I would like to know what Heard was thinking on the final play against Oklahoma State. Alas, he was not made available to reporters afterward. Typically, only those who played well are brought to the post-game news conference. It’s not like the NFL, where there’s an open locker room policy and you can go find whoever you want. However, that’s generally not how it is at most colleges nowadays. Texas is no different in that respect. The starting quarterback usually comes, win or lose. My only real complaint about post-game is the lack of access to the offensive and defensive coordinators. To make the players face hard questions about the day’s events but not the top two assistants is just wrong. That’s Herman decision, though.

And I do believe Ehlinger knows this isn’t Westlake anymore. Hey, speaking of the Chaps, they finally snapped that 10-game losing streak to Lake Travis. How about that? Tip of the cap to Westlake coach Todd Dodge.

We are part of 5 Most Miserable programs now, per a scribe somewhere. What next? Should Herman change offense to an Air Raid variant last 5 games? Throw it 55 times? No way a running game is going to appear this late in season.

— Ron via email

The article you are referring to was in USA Today. It labeled Texas has one of the “five most miserable” programs, along with Michigan and USC.

Putting in an Air Raid system, one crafted by Hal Mumme and sharpened by Mike Leach, would be a dramatic overhaul. That’s not something this coaching staff could do in a week or month. That would require an entire offseason’s worth of work. It’s a timing-based system.

What made Sterlin Gilbert’s system work so well was that the quarterback (in this case, Buechele) got the ball out of his hands quick. One, two, get rid of it. Buechele knew where he was going before the snap. Now, both Buechele and Ehlinger are in a more conventional type of offense where they must read and analyze more.

The first responsibility of the football program should be to the students. Should be! Policies need to be addressed. Creative solutions should be implemented. If the students feel that they are valued then they will attend with loyal support.  

— Bob F. via email

I’m going to delve into the issue about student seating on Friday.

“I was disappointed,” Herman said at his Monday news conference. “If there’s one thing I hope you guys have learned from me, it’s I’m not — I’m pretty honest. I was disappointed. We’ve got to win. Everybody loves a winner. Some of that’s on us. I was disappointed that we had performed to the point where the students had that kind of apathy for it. So we’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job endearing ourselves to the student body.”

Have a question for the Whys of Texas? Contact Brian Davis at bdavis@statesman.com.

The post The Whys of Texas: Universal praise for the defense; the offense, not so much appeared first on Hook ‘Em.

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