TFB Game Week | Bring On The Twerps!
Are you as emotional as I am? If you are, it may be because ending the off-season long football hibernation is often associated with warranted tears of joy. It doesn’t require treatment, however, because before long you may be screaming at your television, as your beloved football program is far from perfect (not that far). This Saturday, Texas is back in action and with some luck, they’ll FedEx deliver a country-style ass-whoopin’. How they do that is always a question. Maryland has a mature and experienced team, one that suffered a bad season last year after a forgettable (for us) great start. They lost, not one, but two (!) quarterbacks in the first few games and the rest is history. This season, they’ll be ready and a bit changed, as both former starting quarterbacks return along with many others. It’s very likely they’ll have an interim coach throughout the season, as DJ Durkin manages the current scandals surrounding his tenure. That’s for the tabloids though, we’re here to talk football!
Bill Connelly’s Five Factors
As seen, Maryland was a lot worse off than Texas by the end of the 2017 season. They weren’t good at anything once it was all said and done. That doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive this season. After all, imagine if Texas had lost both Shane and Sam last season, yikes! With that said both teams will bring something new to the table this season. In Texas’ case, Sam Ehlinger will start from day one, meaning, the entire offense will be schemed to suit his abilities and less so for backup Shane Buechele. In Maryland’s case, their former backup, Kassim Hill is the likely starter. Whereas ‘Piggy’ Pigrom will now serve as a backup and possible ‘Weapon X’. Another thing that will be different for each team will be an added year of maturity and if you don’t think that matters, just look at Bevo XV from last season to this season, yeah.
This is the biggest question mark on the 2018 Texas Football team. Some big changes occurred this off-season. Herb Hand was hired to coach the offensive line, Calvin Anderson transferred into the program, and health was restored to both Elijah Rodriguez and Patrick Hudson, depth! Hand will have a more talented line of bigs up front to wreak havoc on enemy fronts. I’m counting on them to assert some newfound ‘badassery’ in this season’s opener. This spells well for Sam Ehlinger and the backs. Let’s not forget the return of Andrew Beck and Cade Brewer at tight end. So, what might the changes portend for this season’s ‘Hangnail Offense’ (lol)?
Quarterback – Sam is the man. That means a sprinkling of quarterback runs to keep the defense honest, as I suspect Maryland will be hellbent on attacking the Texas run game. In order to defeat an all-out rush defense onslaught, Sam must complete passes and not just some screen and quick passes, but some timely intermediate and deep routes. This will keep Maryland’s head in their shell a lot more often and likely lead to a slow and terrible death for them, as they boil alive in the Texas run game soup. My ‘low bar’ for Sam is a 60% completion rate. If and when he executes at that level (or more), Texas will win games, the close ones too. If not, it’s tough sledding.
Offensive Line – Texas repeatedly failed to create displacement on combination blocks (two-on-one) last season. In near every run scheme, at least one pivotal combination block occurs. The two linemen’s job is to move their mark off his spot, disallowing him to anchor them in place, what a good defensive tackle does for a defense. Granted, there are competitive defensive linemen all over the country. No one is saying it’s an easy task. However, depending on the tactics involved, there’s no reason zone and gap scheme runs shouldn’t result in positive yardage. Where the displacement comes into play is in creating larger creases to allow the backs to work against the second (linebackers) and third (defensive backs) level defenders one man at a time. To do that you need space, something very unfamiliar to the Texas offense last season. Look for displacement. You saw it when Texas opened two years ago. Hopefully you’ll see it again from the get-go this season.
Run & Screen Game – Texas is an efficiency ball control based offense, it requires sustained blocks up front and outside to gain consistent positive yardage. The new offensive line and perhaps some subtle technique and scheme adjustments will help. This is where I think Herb Hand helps most. I expect is to see the Texas motion game to remain prominent as well as Texas picking more ‘low hanging fruit’ on the outside, taking advantage of open alleys and favorable angles. It will be subtle, but these are the changes I expect to see resulting from Hand’s input. Expect Texas to rely on zone runs and to apply gap schemes (pullers) to create quick numbers advantages to the play side. Mixed with that, the read game (varying defenders), and a little quarterback run game, in particular, Zone Draw and Counter (Sweep). Other than that, now that Texas will have tight ends again, you can use motion and the tight end to ‘split’ back field action, clawing at every millisecond of initiative. The hope is Maryland’s defense remains static often, yielding predictable pictures for Sam to attack.
Bubble, Alley, Slant, Go – Maryland will likely opt to play a lot of ‘quarters’ and Cover-1 defense. That said, when you have outside threats such as Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay, you may see plenty of ‘off-coverage’. That sets the table for RPO basics. If off, depending on the angle, run Bubble or hit a quick Hitch in the alley. If tight, run Slant or Go (deep). Of course, you can game each of these concepts to keep perimeter coverage off-balance. Nevertheless, there will be some easy yards outside. It’s incumbent on Sam to hit the easy stuff and the receivers to turn glitter into gold, turn ‘routine’ small gainers in to explosive plays. After all, that’s why you recruit Collin Johnsons, Devin Duvernays, Lil’Jordan Humphries, etc.
Pressure – Texas and Sam need a plan for Maryland’s pressure-game. Maryland likes to bring pressure off the edge and alley often, to attack the gaps outside the tackles. In the past, this has caused them trouble. There’s a slight issue. They often feint pressure as well. This is where motion and pre-snap shifts help to alter the timing of the pressure, ‘hard counts’ too. Against edge and alley pressure it’s best to scheme runs that kick out pressure off the edge, the tight end’s job. The runs can fit inside of the blitz. Also, motion out of the backfield alters perimeter coverage and assignments. This also helps to attack pressure oriented teams, simple add to or replace the threat with one of your own players. For the most part though, using the back to the flat (or motion to flat) is a tremendous release for the quarterback. Defeat pressure and crack Maryland’s shell.
Right now, the slate is clean for this offense. As fans, we’re not sure how much change we’ll see. One thing’s certain, executing blocks up front would’ve made last year’s offense quite a bit more productive. That’s the expectation for this season. There will be no wholesale change made, only improvement in execution, what offensive football is all about.
The Texas defense was the bright spot last season and it looks to remain that way. When you view the depth chart you wonder, how will teams block this Texas defense? That’ll be a question in the minds of every offensive coordinator on the schedule. Most will settle for getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quick. Hopefully that yields an onslaught of suffocating play. If the new Texas punter is anything like the old one, short fields are ahead for the Hangnail gang on the other side of the ball. Another big variable is Maryland’s hiring of Matt Canada, a very good offensive coordinator. His most recent stops are LSU, Pitt, and NC State. What does that mean?
Pre-snap Movement – Canada’s used shifts and motion at every stop. If he feels there’s an advantage to be had by lots of movement, he’ll scheme it in. The reasons are simple, diagnosis, confusion, and initiative. If you’re a defense that likes to match-up a lot, Canada can move pieces around to not only see how you adjust, but by multiple shifts, it makes it difficult for some defenses to adjust quickly, on the fly, especially if they’re used to getting calls from the sideline for formation shifts. Canada will move so much, the defense will be left to its own devices. That is unless you don’t shift with them. Texas needs a simple approach to recognizing ‘surface’ changes in the formation and matching up. How they do this will be interesting. Expect to see Texas stay structured and stick to a plan that doesn’t involve heavy defensive shifting should Canada choose to shift and trade a lot.
Runnin’ Twerps – Similar to Texas, Maryland will utilize an option run game including the quarterback. Canada typically favors split-flow, motion, and shovel-option to pick apart the front. The front will need to be well-versed in option run defense, maintain assignments and lanes, and make tackles. Orlando’s seen option-heavy offenses in the past with mixed results. However, with a veteran defense, I don’t expect Maryland to have as easy a time moving the ball as they did last season. Besides, they’ll be tangling with a very mature group up front with a lot of speed at the second and third levels. This isn’t last season.
Attack The Run – In a similar vain, Texas will cover gaps up front with aggression, forcing Maryland into difficult pass downs. I expect the defense to be gap-sound to start this season. This should free them up to attack the option game. Meaning, they’ll need to attack and take down the quarterback as well. This is somewhat delicate, but the Texas secondary has earned more trust and can likely mitigate big plays better than last season. If Orlando wants to stifle the Maryland offense, ‘match-quarters’ is the way to go, as it gets 9 defenders into the box in a hurry when needed.
Slow Pass Pressure – The Maryland quarterbacks can run. This was painfully obvious last year. When in pass defense situations, the defense must work to cut off escape and bring the quarterback down. Texas became adept at doing this last season and they have the experience, discipline, and athleticism up front to get it done.