As Longhorn Nation anxiously awaits the official dawn of the Stronghorns era, experts are trying to decipher what exactly the new-look Longhorns will look like. I’m no expert, but after reading pretty much every scrap of information I can get, a pattern is beginning to emerge in my mind’s eye. I think that, at least on offense, the 2014 Longhorns could look a lot like last year’s model.
Wait. Before you climb out on that window ledge, hear me out. If I’m right, it may not be a bad thing. In fact, it may be just what the doctor ordered. Don’t believe me?
Let me take you back, to October 12, 2013. On that glorious day in Dallas, the Longhorns lined up and flat-out beat up the Oklahoma Sooners, physically abusing the Sooners in a way not seen in a long time. That day, Texas outgained OU by almost 200 yards, ran 23 more plays and out-rushed the Land Thieves 255-130. Texas ran the ball a whopping 60 times and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Somewhere, Darrell Royal was smiling ear-to-ear.
You see, in the off-season leading into 2013, The Brothers Stoops made a philosophical change to their defense. Recognizing the strain that spread offenses like Baylor was putting on their D, the Sooners decided to go lighter and faster. It was a good match-up for their defense.
Except when they came up against the Longhorns. Desperately needing to take the heat off noodle-armed Case McCoy, Texas put a big lineup on the field that day. They stayed in spread looks much of the time, but with bigger personnel and with an absolute commitment to pounding the undersized Sooner defense. They couldn’t hold up, and thanks to Case’s ability to hit just a few big passes down the field, OU couldn’t cheat against the run.
It wasn’t a fluke, either. Texas used a similar approach against TCU two weeks later. While I don’t believe that Major Applewhite’s intentions were to field a big spread, injuries forced his hand. Yet, the theory behind it was solid. Wide open spread offenses are so prevalent in the Big XII that defenses have to counter by fielding lighter, faster units in response.
However, as with all things, there is a trade-off. Lighter fronts open you up to big O lines and power running games. No team was better suited to attack spread defenses in 2013 than Texas, and they will be even better suited for it this year. The Horns will feature two power backs in Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and a physical offensive line, now coached by an Honest-To-God real offensive line coach. Joe Wickline knows how to develop linemen and he will do it here.
The only thing that kept the Texas offense from really reaching its potential in 2013 was Case McCoy himself. All due respect to Case, but the mere fact that he was on scholarship at UT is an indictment of the previous regime. McCoy was neither a threat to run or pass effectively. Some teams, like OU, were slow to react and they allowed Case to get comfortable and make the few throws he could make well. As the season went on, teams began to enact The Case Rules, and the offense ground to a halt.
Now the good news. Case McCoy has thrown his last pass for the Longhorns. David Ash is a much better passer and he brings greater mobility. Max Wittek, should he transfer from USC as it appears he will, also has the arm strength to push the ball down the field. Tyrone Swoopes brings the run threat to the table. All the Texas offense needs is to make opposing defenses play them honest, each of those guys has the tools to do just that.
However, that’s not the only reason to believe that our new offense could be similar to last year’s. Let’s take a quick look at recruiting, specifically, the players Charlie Strong and his staff are offering. Chris Warren appears to be the running back Strong covets. Big, strong, with one cut ability and a tough, downhill runner. The type of guy to pound inside with.
Strong is actively trying to recruit a true tight end to Texas for the first time since Pat Fitzgerald was making All-American teams in the mid-90s. He’s looking near and far for someone who can both stretch the field and be an in-line blocker. Again, perfect for fielding some sort of a Big Spread look.
Joe Wickline is looking for maulers on the offensive line. Mobility is important, but we’re looking for size first. The kind of size that can lean on those undersized DEs and LBs and punish them for four quarters. There will be no more converting guards into OT’s at Texas.
Also take a look at Zach Gentry, the first QB to receive an offer from Shawn Watson. Yes, he is mobile, but his most obvious attributes are size and arm strength. They want someone who can sling the ball, thereby keeping defenses from keying too much on the running game.
Charlie Strong has spoken often of infusing toughness into this team. The 2013 team was never tougher than that day in the Cotton Bowl. That game may or may not serve as a template for what the new staff is trying to install, but if it is, don’t fret. It can work, because it’s worked before.
With high expectations for next season Texas will not be a team to be messed with so get your 2014 Texas Longhorns football tickets.