The fear in having a discussion on Texas' offense is that it'll be obsolete. David Ash (concussion) could play Thursday, and everything we talked about with Case McCoy will be moot. If Ash sits out and McCoy starts, Texas' tempo drops by five seconds.
If raw true freshman Tyrone Swoopes enters the game, throw everything out.
"Whoever they put out there, they all do the same basically," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "Evidently one's the starter over the other and those kind of things but they still run the same offense and you can't tell any difference on that part of it, the formations and plays. We just prepare, whoever they put out there we try to stop them."
Burnham is right in trying to condense things for his young defense. On a short week of preparation, the last thing a redshirt freshman linebacker needs to worry about is the tendencies of three different quarterbacks. But, at the same time, he's too smart a coordinator for what he said Sunday evening in respect to Texas' offense to be anything but a front.
Ash, McCoy and Swoopes are markedly different and Texas will in fact run a tweaked offense for each of them.
Due in part to the Longhorns becoming the nation's favorite whipping boys but due mostly to the fact that Mack Brown has been misguided in his evaluations of Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, Ash entered the season a somewhat maligned quarterback.
This is, in a word, stupid. Ash completed 67.3 percent of his passes, tied with David Carr for No. 13 in the nation and ahead of Tajh Boyd and A.J. McCarron. He averaged 8.5 yards an attempt, also No. 13 in the nation, tied with Manziel and Matt Barkley. In a wide-ranging statistic that accommodates each play, ESPN had an adjusted QBR of 77.3 for Ash, better than Teddy Bridgewater.
Ash, concussion issues aside, is a talented passer and a capable runner. He's had his low moments, sure, but the Longhorns aren't nearly the same without him.
Take the pace of the game. The Longhorns decided on a no-huddle, quick-tempo offense after co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin took the head gig at Arkansas State before the Alamo Bowl, setting their goal at 15-18 seconds from the spot of the ball to the snap of it, aimed at creating in the neighborhood of 10 or so more plays per game.
Last week against Kansas State, in situations where the Longhorns desired to go quickly (after completions and positive runs), they snapped the ball on average 14.49 seconds after the spot in the first half. When Ash was pulled at halftime, the pace slowed down considerably, to 19 seconds. This time doesn't factor in times when the Longhorns were trying to slow the game down and milk the clock in the fourth quarter.
"Texas plays real fast so we got some reps against our offense today which really helps," Burnham said. "But still, you get in a game and it's a lot faster than practice."
With an up-tempo team, and there are many of them in the Big 12, it's not only their ability to snap the ball quickly as it is their stated intent to go quickly, which renders the defense mostly unable to substitute. This wasn't a problem for the Cyclones last season, when the Longhorns themselves substituted a different package of players after every play under Harsin.
"I just said to one of our [Graduate Assistants] that there's football shape and then there's Big 12 shape," linebacker Jeremiah George said. "Everybody's going to be running up and down the field. We're going to have to continue to talk before the play because you're not going to be able to talk after they play because you're going to have to look to the sideline and line up."
If neither Ash nor top wideout Mike Davis are ready to go by Tuesday, scrap this play from memory. If they do, remember it. This is the first play of the third offensive series. Ash is in the pistol with an H-back next to him, a tailback behind him and a wideout in motion toward the far side of the field. Ash fakes to the wideout then finds himself with what I'd guess is more time in the pocket than he had all season. Davis has plenty of time to fully execute his route, eventually overtaking Sam E. Richardson deep.
McCoy cannot make a downfield throw of this nature. He's done a nice job shoring up his struggles throwing the out route, hitting it a few times against Kansas State, but the senior can't put as much air under the ball as Ash.
At the time McCoy entered the game against Kansas State, Texas had run two plays with a lead-blocker and very few with an H-back. In the second half, the Longhorns ran 14 times with a lead-blocker or an H-back, three looks which can be seen below. In the top one, Geoff Swaim (No. 82) is aligned next to McCoy in the pistol, with Johnathan Gray in the rear. He's going to crash against the grain while the line zone blocks left. In the middle one, that's Malcolm Brown in Swaim's spot. He has a nice downfield block in this play and got a carry out of the same formation later on. Brown is Texas' best back in pass protection and a good blocker; he's also dangerous in the screen game out of this formation. In the bottom one, Swaim is an H-back blocking straight ahead. These are looks the Longhorns didn't show much of when Ash was in the game.
On Monday, Rhoads spoke of the philosophical shift from Harsin to Applewhite, noting the last two years "there was more misdirection that was really hard to keep up with, wondering what that guy's gonna hit." An example of that would be our first screen grab, which bought Ash tons of time. Applewhite has squeezed out most of Harsin's trickeration with Ash but went back to those tactics with McCoy, as they can help buy an outmatched offense time and space. Here McCoy is going to hand to Gray with Swaim blocking, then McCoy is going to fake the end-around to speedy wideout Kendall Sanders. There's potential for that little fake to pay off later in the game.
There is no college film on Tyrone Swoopes, as he has yet to play a game, but Texas fans are hoping he's the next Vince Young. He ran well in the spring game but has a long to go as a passer, as did Young when he was coming off his redshirt freshman season in 2003. If Ash doesn't play and McCoy starts, Swoopes will be the backup, but the staff, per reports, is open to the idea of burning Swoopes' redshirt and giving him snaps against the Cyclones. He could help.
Iowa State bottled up Tulsa's option attack last week and even benefited from two fumbles by quarterback Cody Green, who twice incorrectly read the mesh point. One of those plays is reflected below. However, the Cyclones need to be sure to maintain a point of containment on gun option plays. Here Nick Kron is intentionally unblocked, which he knew was coming. Had Green made the correct read and maintained possession of the ball, he could have picked up serious yardage here with a downfield block from the receiver.
To a small degree, Texas' offense will remain the same no matter which quarterback, because the playbook jargon is not literally changing. Most everything else seems different.