The Herman Offense | A Primer

I took the liberty to post some thoughts and notes about Tom Herman’s Nike 2016 Coach of The Year Clinics talk. Below are my takeaways from that talk and from what I’ve seen of Herman’s recent offenses. Texas Football fans will bear witness to the program’s 3rd spread offense in as many years. What’s common, you ask? Well, Herman and Texas will look to run the ball first and utilize the passing game as a constraint for ‘cheating’ defenses. What’s different? As it relates to last season’s Gilbert-Mattox offense, the receiver splits will be less extreme, but the overall intent will remain, to smash defenses up front with a bruising downhill running game, music to my ears. As I write more posts, I’ll begin fleshing-out some of the ideas with images. This post is meant more to outline what fans might expect to see come Spring and the 2017 regular and post-season, oh my!

Philosophy

It may surprise some that Herman is mostly a defense-minded coach. Herman’s philosophy on offense is somewhat rooted in helping the defense. For Herman, the offense does this by protecting the ball (HUGE!!!) and punting, yes, punting, why!? Well, if you don’t fumble or throw interceptions, you don’t give the other team extra opportunities to win, for one (Ahem Kansas)! Also, if you protect the ball and punt well, there’s a good chance field position will tilt in your favor, expect Michael Dickson to play a major role, you guesses it, the Herman offense!

Physicality is paramount as well. Herman does not believe in finesse-style play. In fact, I’m surprised he hasn’t banned the word, alignment! Herman wants to birth the saltiest group of young men the game has ever seen. Remember back to the 2014 Ohio State-Alabama game. The Buckeye offensive line along with uber-back Ezekiel Elliott blasted through the usually impenetrable Nick Saban defense. Note that they didn’t do it in willy-nilly fashion, no. They busted up the Tide defense by running the ball downhill. For Alabama haters, err this Texas fan, it was a sight to behold and one I expect to see more of in the future only, it’ll be Texas backs making house calls.

Tempo is important, but don’t expect a ‘100 play offense’, as Herman would put it. Last season fans saw the Texas offense attempt to pace faster. While uptempo is useful, it doesn’t fit Herman’s defensive-minded approach, which focuses more on controlling the ball (NO TURNOVERS!), earning at least 2 first downs (key!), and again, punting. This, of course ties into the aforementioned point regarding field position. So, expect an offense that is relatively boring, but one that also strikes hard when the situation calls for it.

Important takeaway: Herman plays a ‘meta-game’ and that includes winning the turnover margin (NO TURNOVERS) and field position battles (PUNTING).

Red zone offense is crucial, points must be scored, but not just any points, TOUCHDOWNS. This is the area of the field Herman is more willing to take risks. Expect to see Texas gunning for scores within the opponent’s 30-yard line. This means taking a shot at times or perhaps more often, going for it on 4th down. It may seem obvious, but there is nothing more important to an offense than a fresh new set of 4 downs. To put it simply and to state the obvious again, 7 is better than 3. If the situation calls for it, it’ll be first down or bust.

Scheme

Herman’s offense is a run-first no-huddle spread offense. What you’ll see are a lot of 2-back run concepts, what is referred to as ’20’ personnel. It’s a personal favorite of mine. In case you don’t remember, in 2015, the ‘Norvaylor’ offense featured a ‘Ponies’ set, often placing Foreman and Warren in the backfield together, pure ecstasy. Also, ’20’ personnel can also feature a back and an off-line tight end, the same way Bluiett and Beck were often deployed the last 2 seasons. ’20’ is Herman’s base personnel and why it was so important for him to sign 2 tight ends in 2017, expect to see one of them contribute early. From there the Texas offense will run Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Power-O, and what I call Power-Sweep. All of these schemes will feature read concepts where the quarterback is reading a defender and deciding whether to keep and run or keep and pass. This should all sound familiar to you.

Included in the run game is a receiver screen and quick passing game, both meant to constrain the run game. Many will remember the inconsistent run-screen game run by both Jerrod Heard and Shane Buechele the last two seasons. This is perhaps the area fans will see the most improvement. Herman will not accept anything less than physical and sustained blocking from his receiving corps. The receivers are likely to experience the biggest reset of all this year, as their Houston counterparts were far and away a better blocking unit than they were last season. Note that this will hugely benefit the quarterback position as well. With the type of athletes Texas can feature outside, a significant upgrade in blocking outside will mean a lot more big plays. Expect Stop Screens, Bubble Screens, and Slip Screens to be paired with the run concepts listed above. Also, Hitch, Stick, and Curl will be tagged and packaged with core run concepts. Lastly, something I clamored for last season, Flare Screens (back or motion receiver) will be utilized to attack off-coverage to either side of the field. Note that all the above are run-pass option (RPO) concepts. Most will be post-snap, but some will be pre-snap reads the quarterback will be tasked with making.

Lastly, the pass game is what I’m most excited about. I’ll definitely dive deeper into this topic, but I really like what I see. I already mentioned the quick pass game, but there will be a concept you’ll see over and over and over, more than any other, the 3-Level pass concept.

Image courtesy of NikeĀ 2016 Coach of the Year Clinics Football Manual – Earl Browning

As you can see, this concept attacks the deep, intermediate, and short zones. This concept is extremely versatile and is meant to win against multiple coverages. Also, the routes are adjustable, meaning the concept is exactly that, in the purest sense. Receivers will be expected to adjust their routes based on the positioning and depth of defenders. This is why Herman doesn’t run much else. It can change on the fly, offering tremendous optionality. The quarterback simply makes a high-low read of the deep defender and the flat defender. Whether against Cover 0,1,2,3, or 4, Herman expects the quarterback to be able to make the read and simply find the open man, if not, move to the ‘3rd Fix’ or Scramble. This concept will be repped from multiple formations and thousands of times. Expect to see it a lot. I’ll dig deeper into variations at a later date.

There are a few other concepts, but what’s glossed over above is the gist of the Herman offense. I hope you enjoyed it and can imagine how many different ways Herman can scheme the same handful of concepts. It’s why his offenses have been both efficient and explosive. Of course, how explosive is contingent on having the best talent possible. The Longhorns offensive roster features some home run hitters. That bodes well for this upcoming season.