The saying about Gary Patterson (and other coaches) is that he makes the offense play left handed. Texas fans have seen this proven out time and time again.
Before last Saturday, the last four-times Texas played TCU, the Horned Frogs outscored Texas 153-33. While 38.5 points a game isn’t great, the more atrocious number is that 8.25 points per game. Since joining the Big 12, Gary Patterson’s defense has had the number of Texas’ offense. It was something he relished and used as material for recruiting.
There are a few main teachings in the Patterson 4-2-5 defense. One of the main characteristics is how he plays the run “inside and in front.”
Basically, the goal is to use his front six to push the play outside the tackles. By forcing the ball outside they do two things. The first is they give themselves a numbers advantage by crashing down the safeties. The second is they neutralize their weakness of size, by getting it away from the big OL out into the open field where they have the speed advantage.
So, what changed this year? How did Texas finally turn it around on offense?
Well, Texas used these strategic workings of the TCU defense to their advantage and gave Gary Patterson a taste of his own medicine. They forced the TCU defense to play left-handed
GRIND THEM ON THE RUN
When the entire offense outweighs the entire defense by an average of 256lbs to 219lbs, the answer seems obvious. There is no need to get cute in the game plan. The game plan needs to be, “We’re going bully them around, force the ball in between the tackles, and do it over and over again.”
They tried this last year, but unfortunately, the offensive line was held together with scotch tape and popsicle sticks.
However, this year the offensive line is healthier and able to generate a lot of consistent push.
Texas exploited their ability to finally push around the TCU defensive line (or just used their speed against them by taking the defender where he wanted to go), with Tom Herman’s old favorite. The inside zone.
With TCU banking on their ability to flow hard inside to force the ball outside, a lot of the time, that left one guy in the second level of their defense.
Here Texas goes trips to force a guy inside to cover outside. Then they run it at the only guy left in the box at the second level.
As you can see in the play, Texas’ offensive line takes their defensive linemen where they already want to go or gets correct leverage to use their strength.
This gives Tre Watson a nice clean hole to run through and with the RT setting the edge and the RG getting up to the next level, he has a nice lane to run through.
During the part where it says “Look at all this space,” check out how Texas, by sealing off the edge and getting to the second level with their offensive line is able to block three guys with two men.
Once Patrick Vahe gets to that second level, TCU is screwed. Texas successfully ran inside, and TCU doesn’t get help until the play is already seven yards downfield.
Then because Texas is able to get a guy who is 325lbs and get his hands on a guy who is 204lbs, Texas is able to exploit the soft center of the TCU defense.
You can see these concepts used again in a similar fashion of the first TD run:
The TCU defense splits the field into two parts down the middle of the center. Texas often times schemed in a way that accomplishes the same simple task of dividing the sides and picking them apart.
This means Texas would attack to their own weak side. Here they do it with a counter.
Despite their lack of numbers, Texas is able to neutralize the defense by focusing on getting to the inside. TCU’s numbers are outside. Texas knows TCU will slant to the right to stop the run to the strong side. Texas just lets them try to force their way to the right. Meanwhile, Calvin Anderson gets a bump on the DE to slow him down and then he and Vahe move up to the second level.
Once Texas was able to get their guys up to the second level it allowed Tre Watson a running start to try to run over a safety.
Running to the weak side also accomplished getting the TCU overhang defenders to stick in their stances instead of charging the ball.
Texas didn’t forget about Ehlinger’s bulldozing ability either. Katfid54 on Surly did a wonderful job of detailing how Herman used the QB Power RPO scheme to his advantage, but let me just point out a run I saw a lot of potential in:
Texas lightens the box with the motion by taking a third man out of the second level. This gives the big men getting up to the next level, an advantage by giving them two targets to focus on (really just one).
Again, you see Texas’ offensive line is able to get a monstrous push on the middle of the defensive line by using one of Herb Hand’s favorite techniques of doubling defenders in the run game. Elijah Rodriguez is able to bully a 260lbs DT while both the RG and RT take a shoulder of TCU’s big man.
Getting this push and getting to the second level allows Texas to seal off three guys with two once again. TCU again has to play left-handed by playing physical in the middle. They can’t. In fact, Cosmi realizes he can even get to the third level. Unfortunately, he is being held, so he can’t get there in time.
If Cosmi gets off and gets to the safety he’s eyeing, Ehlinger easily gets over 15 yards on that run and maybe even a touchdown.
THE PASS GAME
Speaking of Ehlinger, he once again has another game where he threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. That’s his fourth in a row. Yes, he did miss on some passes that he shouldn’t have, but that performance will beat most teams.
However, his biggest stat has been the fact that he’s had 0 INTs over the past three games. Texas just so happened to win those three games. Coincidence?
But what allowed that during this game was the coaches putting him in a position to win by adapting to the what the defense gave them over the top.
The obvious number I can show here is Collin Johnson’s 7 catches for 124 yards. Texas knew TCU only had enough guys to bracket one receiver.
However, I’m more impressed with the adjustments Texas had later on in the game, as they are the ones that lead to touchdowns.
The first major adjustment that led to a touchdown was Texas testing out TCU’s coverage concept:
As I pointed out above, Texas noticed on a few plays that TCU was relying on their CB to provide over-the-top coverage on Collin Johnson and using their safety as an underneath man.
Texas forced the issue by heavily relying on the use of boundary twins sets that kept Humphrey and Collin Johnson on the same side of the formation and using route concepts that would give them an advantage.
Above Texas uses the Portland route concept that forces the issue with the safety. Do you take the out route, or help underneath? Texas knew that he’d take the out route with Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Ehlinger than simply looks off the safety to the opposite sideline to keep him over to that side of the field and throws a wonderful ball under pressure.
Without help underneath Johnson, the throw is easier on Ehlinger as well.
The second major adjustment was a mid-third quarter adjustment to a problem that ultimately killed Texas in the Maryland game. When TCU came out of the third quarter rushing only three and dropping eight, Texas gave up two sacks and had -4 yards on twelve plays.
Again, it looked like making Sam Ehlinger trying to force the ball in somewhere completely covered or get him contained in a collapsing pocket.
Texas made a simple adjustment after the third drive. Option routes for the wide receivers, telling them to run to the open field.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s touchdown is a great example:
While it does take a bit for LJH to realize he’s covered and he should run to open space, you can see him recognize this after he realizes there are three guys on him.
Texas is also helped by the fact that the offensive line gave him SIX seconds to make decisions. Sam Ehlinger ducks his head and steps up while keeping his eyes downfield, draws the defenders up, and lets his guys run to open space. He then delivers a nice ball to Lil’Jordan in space.
That’ll get you six points.
Texas was finally able to just sit on the Horn Frogs and make West Texas roadkill by the solid run attack and capable blocking up front. From there, it was offensive adjustments to what TCU brought to match the tough running game that eventually won the game.
Next up K-State and they’ll likely use a very similar game plan for Manhattan.