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Texas Bowl Preview: Breaking Down the Longhorn Offense

Part II of our Texas Bowl preview breaking down the Longhorns roster. You can read Part I on their defense here.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Texas’ offense differs from Arkansas’ in that it is very quarterback-centric. The Horns use a lot of Pistol and Shotgun with an offset back. The run game features a heavy dose of the read option and the passing game is a conservative, West Coast type of attack.

The Texas offense, if you hadn’t heard, isn’t very good. While the hire of Strong by Texas makes sense from a defensive standpoint, Strong’s Louisville offenses underachieved badly, and the concerns about his ability to coach offense have already carried over into year one in Austin. Strong recruited well, but an offense led by Teddy Bridgewater and a whole host of future NFL players wasn’t overly impressive in 2013. The Cards were in dogfights with Kentucky, Houston, Memphis, and Cincinnati despite having significantly more talent. The offense is very conservative and not very explosive.

Quarterback comparison
Name Games Completion % Yards/Game Yards/Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Rating
Tyrone Swoopes 11 58.80% 213.8 6.55 13 10 120.2
Brandon Allen 12 56.30% 177.1 6.73 18 5 128.5

Swoopes (6-4, 243, Soph.) replaced an injured David Ash against BYU in the second game of the season. As a player, he has some similarities to Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, although he’s not nearly as refined a player yet.

He’s been very up-and-down. Against the porous defenses of Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State, he was 80 of 128 (62.5 percent) for 1,072 yards (268 yards per game) with six touchdowns against one interception. Against Baylor, TCU, West Virginia, and Kansas State, he was 60 of 122 (49.1 percent) for 574 yards (143.5 yards per game) with two touchdowns and six interceptions. The performance that stands out was the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma, when he completed 27 of 44 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns, although much of that came with Texas trailing big and trying to battle back. Four times Swoopes has posted a QB Rating of under 100 (Texas is 1-3 in those games), compared to just twice for Brandon Allen (and one was the Texas Tech game when he didn’t have to throw it).

As we’ll see in a second, Swoopes isn’t getting a ton of help, and he’s certainly shown brief flashes of greatness. But right now he’s a very average to below-average quarterback whose production doesn’t quite measure up to the requirements of the offense he’s running. He’ll get better, though, so it’s a good thing Arkansas is playing against him now.

Texas offensive line
Name Position Height, Weight Starts
Marcus Hutchins"]" style="text-align: center; height: 15.6pt;" class="xl66" height="21">Marcus Hutchins LT 6-5, 278 11
Camrhon Hughes RT 6-7, 324 6
Sedrick Flowers"]" style="text-align: center; height: 15.6pt;" class="xl66" height="21">Sedrick Flowers LG 6-3, 320 12
Kent Perkins RG 6-5, 330 9
Taylor Doyle"]" style="text-align: center; height: 15.6pt;" class="xl66" height="21">Taylor Doyle C 6-4, 298 7

As you can see from the start numbers, this line has been shuffled a bit, although that lineup has been used for the last six games. Texas has suspended and dismissed multiple linemen, including both offensive tackles expected to start entering fall camp in August. This unit isn’t very good at either run or pass blocking, but it has gotten better as the season has progressed. Swoopes has been sacked 24 times in 11 games, and his mobility has saved him from a few others. For the run, the line struggled to open up holes against teams like BYU, Kansas State, and TCU, all of which are at least decent at stopping the run. Texas only surpassed 200 rushing yards twice: Texas Tech and West Virginia. And we all know how easy it is to open up holes against Texas Tech.

Texas running backs
Name Height, Weight Attempts Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns
Malcolm Brown 5-11, 222 176 683 3.88 6
Jonathan Gray 5-11, 215 140 627 4.48 7

Woof, those yards per carry numbers are the problem with the run game. Texas is persistent enough to keep trying, but the Horns don’t generate many big plays in the running game and have long periods of going nowhere. Brown is the workhorse back while Gray is the more explosive option. Gray had runs of 40 and 39 against West Virginia (finishing with 101 yards on 10 carries) but had 11 runs for a net of zero against TCU. Brown grinded out 116 yards on 22 carries against Texas Tech, the most yards by a Texas running back in a game this year. Against run defenses with a pulse, the numbers were ugly: 10 for 29 against TCU, 15 for 31 against Oklahoma State, six for 21 against Kansas State, 14 for 28 against BYU. Without sacks, Swoopes has added 79 carries for 474 yards (6.0 yards per carry), making him the best running option.

To counter Texas’ read-option run game, the Hogs will probably use what is called a scrape exchange. Here it is against an inverted veer from Pistol:

Scrape Exchange vs. Inverted Veer

The defensive end, in this case JaMichael Winston, is left unblocked while Swoopes reads. If Winston crashes inside, Swoopes will keep the ball and run outside. If Winston recognizes the option and freezes, Swoopes will hand it off to the back. A "scrape exchange" calls for the end to crash, forcing Swoopes to keep it. The linebacker, Brooks Ellis in this case, has to recognize the play and become the "force" man, racing down to where Winston was to force Swoopes to the outside. If he can make the tackle himself then he should, but otherwise he should attempt to gain leverage on Swoopes and make him run toward the sideline, where the cornerback can finish him off.

Here’s the more classic zone read, shown from Shotgun with an offset back. Here, Trey Flowers and Martrell Spaight are making the play with help from Alan Turner.

Scrape Exchange vs. Zone Read

Since coming to Arkansas, the biggest change Robb Smith has made has been his implementation of a "swarm" tackle technique, where instead of individual tacklers trying to make a play themselves, players know where their teammates are and can get leverage on runners and allow the group to swarm the ballcarrier. It is for this reason that the read option has not been very successful against Arkansas this season. Ole Miss and Mississippi State tried it but had almost no success, eventually abandoning it. Both of those teams had decent quarterbacks that they could rely on, but Texas does not. Swoopes having to throw more than his usual 30 to 35 times spells disaster for Texas.

Here’s how the "swarm" technique looks in action. Here, Ole Miss has run a zone read and the quarterback has handed off to #22. Watch Ellis (#51) track this play until Turner can come help him.

Swarm Tackle

In previous years and under previous coordinators, Ellis dives at the back, misses, and the back picks up six yards. Not under Robb Smith’s defense. Arkansas is going to have to do a lot of that when Swoops keeps and gets outside. Force him all the way to the sideline.

Texas’ up the middle rushing game isn’t very threatening, especially considering how good Arkansas is at stopping downhill rushing attacks.

Texas receivers and tight ends
Name Height, Weight Catches Yards Yards/Catch Touchdowns
John Harris 6-2, 218 64 1015 15.86 7
Jaxon Shipley 6-0, 190 58 571 9.84 1
Marcus Johnson 6-1, 193 26 304 11.69 1
M.J. McFarland 6-4, 249 11 53 4.82 2

Harris is the Amari Cooper of the Longhorns in that he’s their best offensive weapon (not in terms of quality), but when he’s not getting catches, Texas’ offense completely stalls. Texas is 4-0 when he has 100 receiving yards and 2-6 when he does not. He’s a legitimate deep threat who can get separation and has a large catch radius. Swoopes doesn’t throw a particularly good deep ball, but he can find Harris occasionally.

The rest of the Texas receiving corps is pretty average. Shipley had 115 yards on nine catches against Oklahoma, 81 against Kansas, and 92 against Iowa State, but has 38 or fewer yards in four straight games now. He is dealing with a hamstring injury that has plagued him for a while, and may have re-aggravated it, making him questionable for the bowl game. Johnson caught a 41-yard pass against Oklahoma but has done little else (under 42 yards in every other game) while the tight end McFarland is used more as a blocker. You can decide which was his best game: two catches for 11 yards against Iowa State, or one for 13 against Texas Tech. The Horns will also dump off to Gray (20 catches, 122 yards) and Brown (15 catches, 65 yards).

We’ll go through the advanced stats preview for more game keys, but from the roster breakdown, it becomes apparent that Texas probably isn’t going to score many points against the Hogs. They’ll probably hit a couple of deep passes to Harris to set up a score or two and the run game will eek out just enough yards to keep the field position game close. That’s about it for the Texas offense. So the key becomes Arkansas’ offense. The Hogs probably only need 17 to 24 points to win, and maybe fewer.