Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) is helped up by running back Roschon Johnson (2) after being sacked in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Dallas. Ehlinger was sacked 9 times as Oklahoma won 34-27. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Football

Whys of Texas: Longhorns should expect to see more exotic blitz looks going forward

Posted October 16th, 2019

Advertisement

Texas coach Tom Herman said the offensive line would shoulder some of the blame for Oklahoma’s nine sacks last Saturday, “but they are not to be blamed entirely.”

He’s right. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger held the ball too long on some plays. The “hot” receiver, Ehlinger’s quick target on blitz plays, was covered up on others. But yes, there were protection breakdowns.

One blitz in particular sure looked awfully familiar.

Advertisement

Flash back to week two against LSU. Outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson wasn’t having much luck against Texas left tackle Sam Cosmi. Just before halftime, Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda switched things up.

Instead of having Chaisson continue to rush from the outside, Aranda called for him to loop around his defensive tackle and run straight past center Zach Shackelford. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger was toast. The sack resulted in a loss of 12 on third-and-9.

That strategy came roaring back to the forefront Saturday against Oklahoma.

Texas faced third-and-18 from its own 8-yard line. On the snap, OU defensive tackle Jalen Redmond looped around two players and found an opening to storm past linemen Parker Braun and Cosmi. Ehlinger got the ball off for an incomplete pass, but got driven into the dirt in the process.

“It takes a lot of communication, a lot of movement, fast thinking,” Ehlinger said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s a copycat type of deal, but it’s something that when you have talented guys that are quick and can make plays, you put that in your defense so you make it hard on offenses.”

Shackelford said the linemen need to be “more physical when we communicate that the looper’s coming.”

Speak up, essentially.

“We can’t just kind of tiptoe around and quietly say it,” Shackelford said. “We have to be demanding in our calls and also physical.”

Two other blitzes are worth revisiting, because the Horns are sure to see something like these again.

OU’s Kenneth Murray, who looked like a one-man wrecking machine at times, saw guard Junior Angilau pulling to his left. Murray shot the gap in textbook fashion. Running back Roschon Johnson must not have seen Murray coming and didn’t try to block him. Ehlinger did, though, and pulled the ball back to avoid total disaster.

Another blitz that seemed hard to believe was Pat Fields’ rush clear across Fair Park. He lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and came straight ahead, dodging another looper in the process. Fields got a major sack on third-and-9, forcing another Texas punt.

OU’s blitzing prowess was targeted and effective. Same as it was on that corner blitz in last year’s Big 12 championship game.

The Longhorns need to adjust because they will see similar defensive line stunts and loopers in the weeks to come.

Let’s tackle some questions. Or try to, anyway. On to this week’s mailbag…

Q. What went wrong with Herman’s game plan? — Mark

Well, this answer could go anywhere, really. One of my biggest questions as the game unfolded was this: Where is the backside defensive end or backside linebacker to make sure Jalen Hurts doesn’t slip out the back door? If you want to call that a spy, fine. But isn’t that part of containment?

Second, I can actually live with the missed tackles. Missed tackles happen. Tackling is a national epidemic. Texas did not corner the market on bad tackling. But giving up nine sacks is inexcusable. The stunts and blitzes should not have caught the offensive line this flat-footed. Let’s say you cut the sack numbers in half, the Horns probably have a far better shot.

Q. Making the transition from where Texas is now (just outside of Top 10) into solid Top 10 or Top 5 team has to be the most difficult move. Other than building depth, what does the Longhorn program need to do to move into that status on a consistent basis? — Bill

Sadly, there is no magic wand anyone can wave to make this happen. The Horns have come miles and miles from where they were in 2016. Prior to Saturday, I thought there was no way this team could get embarrassed anymore. It’s too physical, too mentally strong. Then, Saturday happened.

And don’t give me the “they only lost by seven points” argument. That was the closest blowout I’ve ever seen.

Texas players stand for the playing of “The Eyes of Texas” after losing to Oklahoma 34-27 in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Dallas, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The most positive sign of improvement is that Texas is now winning games it should — Louisiana Tech, Rice, etc. — and beating Big 12 teams it should beat, too. The Oklahoma State win will look good by season’s end. Did anybody really sweat it against West Virginia? UT should blow by Kansas, although the Jayhawks made it uncomfortable last season.

Come January, Herman may realize he needs to shake things up. But he also believes that a consistent coaching staff is a key to long-term success.

Q. Time to admit that while we may be “back” to winning 9 or 10 games and going to a decent bowl, we’re not “back” to being a national contender. Sad news, not even close. OU is close, but Alabama showed they’re not quite either. — Julius

Agreed. This is why I hate the “Texas is back” schtick. H-A-T-E, hate it. It’s a cliché, and now it’s a national punchline. You’re not “back” until you at least win a Big 12 championship. When’s the last time that happened? It’s been a decade. That said, Texas is clearly among the top teams in the Big 12. There’s a big difference between being among the top teams and being the program that’s won four straight league titles, too.

Q. Mustard or ketchup on your corn dog? — OccupyLF

Mustard on two of them. Ketchup on the third, just for a change of pace. That was over a two-day span, I should say. I’m not an animal. I also had a funnel cake (yummy) and tried something called avocado fries (just so-so). By the way, a warm Shiner from the Fletcher’s corny dog stand at the State Fair is as yuck as it sounds.

The Fletcher’s corny dog stand outside the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Brian Davis/AMERICAN-STATESMAN Staff

Q. Frustrated by offensive calls/personnel. Seemed like OU was constantly run stunting on 1st/2nd down. Why keep running into it? If they were running one high safety, why throw laterally? If goal is “best 11” on field, why not run Malcolm Epps at tight end with Collin Johnson and Brennan Eagles and get some mismatches? — Matt

Tight end Cade Brewer has seven catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. I can’t recall if any of those were considered critical, like Andrew Beck had throughout last season. In UT’s receiver system, Epps and Johnson play the same position, so that’s why you see only one at a time. A three-wide formation of Johnson, Eagles and Devin Duvernay in the slot is pretty formidable, seems to me.

I’ve never been a big fan of the east-west passing game, but coaches now consider those quasi-running plays. To coaches, three yards from the running back is equal to three yards on a flat pass.

On first down, Texas coaches want to get four yards. On second down, get half needed for a first down. Believe it or not, Texas has the best third-down conversion rate in the Big 12 (54.4%).

Q. Does this staff always feel the NEED to have a TE on the field? Why not put more speed on the field (Jake Smith along with our receivers) when we NEED scores or drive down the field with such little time. — Orlando

In mid-September, I asked Herman whether there had been any discussions about putting Duvernay and Smith — two slot receivers who play the same position — on the field at the same time. “Why do we need to?” he said with a straight face. I responded, “I don’t know, I’m asking. Would anybody consider that?” He said, “Sure.” And we went on to the next question.

Texas Longhorns wide receiver Jake Smith (16) was targeted only once against Oklahoma on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Dallas, Texas. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

At this point, I wouldn’t expect to see a four-wide formation with Johnson, Eagles, Duvernay and Smith. Why? I’m not the coach. Maybe Duvernay lines up in the backfield and Smith lines up in the slot, perhaps?

Q. Can you tackle an OU player for us? — UT Mangler

I do have some eligibility remaining, but you’d give me one, maybe two plays before wanting to revert back to normal. I played left tackle in high school. Second-team all-district, thank you. I even got a form recruiting letter from Navarro College! Spelled my name right and everything.

Look, tackling is not something that can be fixed in October. That’s something you work on in the offseason. That said, Herman is trying to address the issue. The coach admitted to pulling back on some of their physical drills the last few weeks because of all the injuries.

“Toughness Tuesday” used to be a big deal. It’s the only full-pad, full-throttle practice of the week during the season. I’m betting Herman dials it up a few notches, injuries or not, going forward. I have to believe that watching his team get physically dominated had to bother him more than anything else.

Q. Is there any hope for an improved running game? — Matt M.

If you’re hoping that Roschon Johnson would be named the starter this week, no such luck. I asked Herman that directly on Monday, and he demurred. Have to see how practice goes this week, he said. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter who jogs out first, be it Johnson or Keaontay Ingram. The number of carries says it all.

Ingram got two carries (9 yards) against OU while Johnson got eight (95 yards). If there’s that kind of disparity this week against Kansas, then you’ll know for sure. 

Q. What’s the plan to fix Ingram? — Daniel

Now that’s the million dollar question. I’m not shy about admitting that I’m the president and CEO of the Keaontay Ingram fan club, but this is a performance-based business.

When Ingram ditched the knee brace and ran for a career-high 114 yards against Oklahoma State, I thought he’d turned a corner. But he had just 18 yards at West Virginia and missed some plays with a minor injury. Then the OU game happened.

Texas running back Keaontay Ingram (26) celebrates a run against Oklahoma State at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sept. 21, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

“We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Herman said Monday. And he’s right. Texas needs Ingram and Johnson to perform the rest of the season. It would sure help if Daniel Young or even Kirk Johnson could contribute, too.

Typically, we don’t get to interview players who aren’t playing well. At least, that applies to non-team captains. Ingram isn’t a captain, so unless he has a breakout game, it may be a while before we get to talk to him again.

Q. Will Texas ever give us a close to flawless game this season? With all the resources pumping into the program, what keeps them from dominating the conference? — TXGirlTXFootball

That’s a question that’s vexed fans, reporters, coaches, administrators for years. They’re terribly vexed.

I do believe Herman has eradicated the entitlement mindset that seeped in earlier this decade, and I’m talking well before Charlie Strong arrived. You don’t get the sense that Texas players believe they should win games just because it says Texas on their uniforms. They know they have to earn it.

Q. What’s up with 3 defensive linemen? Would four make a difference? — Les

If that’s what you want, OK. But it goes against defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s belief system, and it would go against how the Horns have recruited in recent years. Having three linemen wouldn’t be a big deal if they could get to the quarterback.

This group may be “disruptive,” as Herman likes to say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its productive. Even Orlando said last week he’s “not hiding” from the fact Texas needs more pressure on the quarterback. When you’re not getting pressure up front, that puts tremendous strain on the back end. Everybody has to do their job.

Q. Do you think Jordan Whittington redshirts and comes back as a WR next year? — Jake

Should Jordan Whittington redshirt at this point? Probably so. He can still play in three games this season and protect his redshirt status. So I don’t expect to see him back until probably the Texas Tech game on Nov. 29. Nobody has told me that, though. Call it beat writer’s intuition. Herman said Monday that Whittington will not play this week.

Texas running back Jordan Whittington (21) runs against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 31, 2019 in Austin. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The coaches have to determine if they can reach the Big 12 championship game without Whittington. If the answer is yes — and I would argue it is — then you save him at this point. Play him against Tech in the regular season finale, the Big 12 title game (should you get there) and then a bowl game. But he’ll be a running back, not a receiver.

Q. Will Tom Herman, with all the outside analyst help and elite athletes, get more creative on offense or will he stay vanilla and predictable? — SoTexJustin

Texas tried to downplay an Orangebloods report that Chris Ash, the former Ohio State defensive coordinator and recently-fired coach at Rutgers, was in Austin last week. Ash sat in on meetings while the coaches prepared for the Oklahoma game. It’s ludicrous to suggest Ash would sit in on coaches meetings and not get asked at some point, “So, what do you think?”

At the end of the day, Herman is the play-caller and directs the offense. As I’ve stated in this space before, if you have issues with the offense, don’t waste time yelling at offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Herman is the offensive mind and has final say on the play calls.

Q. End of season will there be a shakeup with staff? Will Beck, Orlando be replaced? — Steve

Texas just gave Orlando a pay bump to $1.7 million, so it’s doubtful that he’ll be thrown out should things continue downward. His contract runs through March 2021, as does offensive line coach Herb Hand’s. Well, I suppose Herman could do that, but that goes against everything I know about him and his feelings toward the current staff.

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando walks into the stadium before a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman]

Should Texas fail to reach the Big 12 championship game, this season would be considered an abject failure. There’s just no way around that. The question would then become what does Herman do about it?

I’d say keep the faith, if you are a Texas fan. Lots of football left.

Q. Games are games, and there will be a lot more Texas-OU games and Texas will win its share. On to Kansas. Lets beat who we should beat and see where we end up at the end. (P.S. This sure beats the Charlie Strong era.) — DPO

That’s why Herman ended his Monday press conference by collecting his papers and said, “All right, beat Kansas!”

Have a question for the Whys of Texas? Email bdavis@statesman.com or drop a line on Twitter (@BDavisAAS).

Comments