The Best Damn Analysis of Texas — Are the Ducks on the ‘Horns of a Dilemma?

Featured Photo 1

That title is a lofty claim, but most of you have read my work for a couple of years and know that when I make an infrequent boast like that — I always back it up.  I assert this because, like you, I have read the stat-filled reports that give us names, but very little in the way of details about the Longhorn team.  What is the best way to learn about this bowl opponent?  You have to watch every game and read a ton of football analysis and commentary about them, OR you consult with a Texas fan that is also knowledgeable about football.  Coach Lee Staley of Houston was superb to interview because he gave us a very objective view of the Longhorns, even while his passion flowed for his favorite team, as we love our Ducks.  You will learn some things not seen on other sites (to date), as I did, and I welcome feedback from Texas fans who can offer more in the relative strengths and weaknesses of the ‘Horns.

Gif 1

A strength of the Longhorns is the left side of their offensive line, behind which they will run behind, often with Inside and Outside Zones, along with a couple variations of the Power play.  Above is an Inside Zone play where they add the Fly Sweep misdirection, as well.  They WILL hand off on the Fly Sweep on occasion, and note that I stated Inside Zone, and not Inside Zone Read.  They do not read a defender and simply run the basic play but do it very effectively.  This team loves to pound the ball with their big backs that cannot be stopped short of five yards if they have not been hit yet at the line of scrimmage.

Coach Lee explained that Texas can run the ball with a little play-action passing to get and hold a lead.  The problem for other teams has been stopping this power running attack with the two very talented blockers on the left side leading the way.  Throw in a H-back and some misdirection — along with Oregon’s weakness against the run in the final four games of the season, and I come away very concerned as I view the Texas ground game.

Gif 2

Lee explained to me that, “when the ball is inside the five yard line — Texas is nearly impossible to stop.  We sometimes will line up two tight ends (as above) or a bunched formation where we bring in a guard (#66) as a tight end and run it over the left side.  It’s a touchdown every time.”  As he described some of this, my mental pictures went back to Stanford and made me wonder if the Texas coaching staff would run these formations other than in the Red Zone?  Scary.

Gif 3

The coach also warned about being too focused on stopping the running game of the Longhorns, as an incredibly crafty WR, Mike Davis, (above) can get behind any secondary.  “He’ll get you for one TD . . . I’m predicting that,” and I’m not sure I would disagree with the Coach.  It would appear that an accurate throw isn’t necessary for this talented receiver or for another WR, Marcus Johnson, to score on a wheel route.

Gif 4

Lee told me what was good about this Longhorn team, and what he lacked confidence in.  ‘We might have the worst Division 1 QB in the nation.”  Yikes, yet his stats confirm Lee’s annoyance, as Case McCoy has thrown for 11 TDs, with 11 interceptions, and at Oregon, we know that does not work for a great passing attack.  “You will not see him throw passes of more than ten yards outside, deep, (unless Davis is behind the secondary) or even posts or corners.  Screens and passes to the short/middle routes, such as the stop or dig, are primarily what he’ll be asked to complete.  “He just doesn’t have the arm for the tough throws,” states Lee.  My own observation concludes the same as he CAN complete some of those throws, but not consistently — which can put their team in trouble.

A 4-2-5 Defense

From Video

A 4-2-5 Defense

Texas has a misleading record due to injuries, (such as at QB) and due to the decline and then ascendance of the Longhorn defense.  They were gashed for over 500 yards on the ground by BYU.  Run over by Ole’ Miss.  Texas quickly stopped the bleeding by bringing in an experienced Defensive Coordinator in Greg Robinson, who turned this defense around nearly overnight in the early part of the season.  You see above how Texas runs a 4-2-5 defense and even a 3-3-5 defense at times to help overcome some secondary weaknesses.  They can do this because they have an incredibly talented defensive lineman in Jackson Jeffcoat who is built like a D-lineman, but fast enough to play linebacker and even drop into coverage.  It’s a smart alignment to match their personnel.Gif 6

In addition to the offensive line, we find the other major strength of Texas is their defensive line, even with an exceptional player of this group being out for the year.  These guys are great run-stoppers and simply extraordinary on the pass rush.  In the play above, we see the best two, Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed meet at the QB against Oklahoma.  Reed is amazing in how big, yet how fast and athletic he is.  Coach told me it was a strength of the team, and I not only believe it, but worry about our own Inside Zone Read play that our offense is predicated upon.  This defensive line is as strong as any we have faced playing the B1G or the SEC (or Stanford) in the past.  The linebackers are not exceptional, but effective considering two of those starters were lost for the year to injuries.

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Lee felt that a real weakness of Texas was the secondary due to also being decimated by injuries.  He felt that, “the corners are not great at man coverage, and the safeties do not have great instincts or tackle well in space.”  He went on to say that, “you’ll pass the ball on us, if you can keep our defensive line out of the backfield.”  It was quite an interesting part of our conversation and listening to him talk of the defensive backs would have made you think that Burnt Orange was the nickname of their secondary.

As we talked, he would speak of this former five-star player, and that five-star, and after a bit it became more apparent as to the elite talent level this team attracts.  It reminded me of a USC lineup and the biggest surprise was one I did not ponder until later — and that is the respect given to Oregon.  It is not that many years ago that Texas fans would have been perhaps a bit dismissive of the Ducks, but this fellow asserted that Oregon would win 48-21 (I suspect a bit of Texas hospitality on his part with that score).

Before I drop the bomb on you, let’s recap.  Texas has a power running attack and an athletic defensive line as strengths of their team, while their passing attack and secondary are their weaknesses.  He surprised me by stating that, “we can’t stop a running quarterback,” but the bomb came when he told me that, “if you get more than one score up . . . we’re done.”  What?  If we lead by only ten points the game is out of reach?  He reminded me that they do not have a QB who can mount an effective passing attack for comebacks, and that they panic if too far behind.  When asked to elaborate he explained that, “when our offensive coordinator (Major Applewhite) played here as a QB and Texas got behind in games — he panicked, so what do you think he does now as an OC?”

Marcus Mariota vs. Tennessee

Craig Strobeck

Marcus Mariota vs. Tennessee

Wow!  Add all this up and the game plan becomes clear for both teams.  Texas has won games by power running with a little play-action passing to keep the lead, and letting their defensive line overwhelm opponents.  Oregon does not match up well with Texas in that regard, with our inside running game woes, and our inability to stop an opponent’s running game.  The Longhorns are suspect in stopping a good passing attack along with a running QB, thus if Oregon can get a lead — it changes the game dramatically.  What interesting story lines to follow as the game progresses, and it will be fun to watch how close “the coach” was in his assessment of both teams.

I wish to thank Coach Lee Staley for his time, his respect of Oregon, and his objectivity in looking at both teams.  I learned quite a bit that I had not read in other analysis, and, of course, it helps to see examples along with the player’s names who will make this bowl game so entertaining for both sides.

“Oh how we love learn about the Longhorns . . . and our beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer

Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com

Eugene, Oregon

(Top photo from Video)  

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • John Choate

    Good analysis. I would say the biggest defensive weakness is the linebacker position and safety. Neither can position themselves well, take good angles, or tackle in space, The cornerbacks are actually pretty decent.

    • FishDuck

      Hey John…thanks for the feedback…and that is a handsome dog!

      George–when Texas has elite talent, it is hard to disagree with the strategy. It is their strength on Oregon’s weakness, and vice-versa. It should be quite entertaining.

      Thanks to you both.

    • funnytoes

      Safeties are fine. NO D can prosper when the LBs consistently get blocked and the linemen are pancaked.

  • George W Bush

    Bring in 9 5* lineman, and hand it to 1 of 3 5* running backs 100 times if possible – Texas gameplan.

    • funnytoes

      You blew as a President, but you’re a good football analyst. I’d run, run, run until our overrated (by performance, not reputation) showed it could stop ‘em.

  • hokieduck

    I am very concerned about the Ducks in this game. If Mariota is still not full strength (which I cannot believe he can be in this amount of time) and a total danger to burn them, The Ducks will have a tough row to hoe. If the D line continues to be a sieve, ditto.

    On the other hand, if the Ducks of the early season come out to play, it could be a horserace in San Antonio and, if it is a horserace, Oregon wins big. Hopefully, DAT will have fully recovered and we will get to see him one last time take it to the house in explosive fashion (I think he needs to leave for the NFL after this game, unfortunately, for his own sake… he has nothing more to learn/prove and his small frame is only going to take so many hits).

    Go Ducks. Make the Mack Brown era end convincingly. WTD. Want this game, unlike most of the month of November.

    • funnytoes

      So you’re concerned his little frame is at risk in the PAC-12, but okay w/him absorbing hits in the NFL?
      Hmmm…..

      • hokieduck

        I think most RBs have a finite number of blows to be taken. DAT maybe even more than most because he is small. I think that he is an instinctive runner who can learn more as he goes, but bottom line is that he runs on instinct… unlike, MM who learns with every single snap (reads, progressions, defenses). In other words, it seems to me that DAT has more to gain by moving on (as much as I would *love* to see him stay) and MM has more to gain by staying. Just my opinion.

        • funnytoes

          MM was, possibly, worse this year than last.
          As far as returning to early season form: we’re not playing Nicholl’s ST, it’s the Longhorns. Of Texas. MM looked invincible until the competition got stiffer.
          Remember Reggie Bush’s first NFL game? He was obliterated. And Reggie is FAR bigger than DAT, frame-wise. DAT needs another year of bulking up, maturing. A big Helfrich mistake was in using DAT as an RB at all this year. Thomas Tyner should have gotten those extra reps and he’d have progressed a LOT more. Byron Marshall, also, would have gotten needed experience.

          • hokieduck

            Well, funny, I totally agree that DAT should have stayed in the slot this year. Tyner is going to be the future and Marshall progressed better than I was willing to give him credit for early on.

            I do not think DAT has the complexion to “beef up,” however. He is just a little shifty/flat-out-fast guy who will return kicks and hopefully excel as a slot/Wes Welker kind of receiver (although going over the middle a ton will be tough).

            I attribute MM’s decline to his injury which occurred during the UCLA game but there is only one way to figure out which of those theories (better competition or injuries caused him to be human) is more correct. That is his future play. Glad he is staying at Oregon for another year to make the most of his chances and to give Oregon another great year.

  • funnytoes

    First off, let’s be objective about Marcus: take away those first patsies, and he didn’t run all that much against talented teams BEFORE his alleged serious knee “problem.”
    Notice, also, that the “injury” didn’t get worse after it allegedly occurred, but MM actually got better in the fourth quarter against Stanford. This would be impossible with a serious knee injury. Period.
    Fact: he was NOT an elite QB the last games of the season. Fumbles and picks, bad zone reads, and poor passing decisions weren’t uncommon—- certainly, those erased all considerations of him as a serious contender for the Heisman.
    How many yards did the Beavers get on the ground, again? The Beavers, for chrissakes!!!!!!!!
    We’re in deep doo-doo against Texas. They’re not exactly an elite team, but were AZ and OR St?
    It will take an error free game to win this, for the Ducks.
    This will be a test for newbie Helfrich and Frost: can they scheme creatively or is it to be the same boring, predictable calls that marred the last several games of the season?
    I’ll say the glass is half-full and the Ducks return to form (Chip form, when we defeated teams we should defeat, and always handily!).

  • longhorn

    Dunno if I agree that Major panicked as a player when behind. He had some pretty great comeback wins (see Washington in the Holiday bowl).

  • Agent Michael Scarn

    This may be the best damn made-up analysis of Texas I’ve ever read. Who is Coach Lee Staley of Houston? Nobody at any level as far as can be discerned. Doesn’t even exist. Major panicked as a player when behind? Not once. Perhaps you’re confusing the player with the coach. The most consistent thing Mack Brown did during his tenure as HC of Texas was put a scarily talented squad in a position to lose. Unprepared and incapable of adjustment was the hallmark of his time on the 40 Acres. The Burnt Orange die-hards have known this for over a decade. The only thing that kept Brown on the sidelines as long as he was, was a player he had to be convinced/begged to recruit (Vince Young), and another that he brought in as a career backup (Colt McCoy). Thankfully, both of those players overcame the ineptitude of the Brown regime and brought great success. Mack has ALWAYS put himself above the good of the program. Recipe to beat Mack Brown? Take away the obvious strengths and watch his team flounder until they quit. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Decent coaching would have had the UT program at early 2000s USC, or current Alabama, levels of dominance. Instead, it was a guy that has won 2 conference titles in 30+ years of coaching. The overachiever of underachievers.

    • FishDuck

      Ah yes….look at the guy accusing someone of faking it–you know, the guy posting with a phony name. I am posting straight up, and Lee Staley exists, as I could get him on the phone for you.

      You would not know this as being a new reader here, but I consult with many retired coaches all the time. “Once a coach, always a coach.”

      Your comment about Major panicking as a player has been shared by many Longhorn fans on a couple of boards, and might have some merit. I say “might” because I personally did not go back and watch all of those old games; this was something I quoted from the Coach. Since it is his opinion….it is something we can agree or disagree with, and that is fine to exchange thoughts on it.

      It’s funny how Texas fans have reacted more to the opinion of one Coach about a former player/now OC, than the actual football part of my 1,500 word article. Or they rant about their Coach as you have.

      I guess that gives silent consent of my article and means I did a great job as usual–my thanks to you for that.

  • QuackAddict

    Hey Charles, I don’t have access to film to re watch games but I’ve noticed some trends defences are throwing at the ducks. It’s a variation of cover 0 but instead of over committing at the line of scrimmage, teams (Oregon state, Arizona) use two safeties and have one free play side to be +1 against the run and one backside for the read. If you have the time I’d love to see your analysis of this for a “how d’s try to stop Oregon” article. Texas’ 4-2-5 strategy would set up perfectly for this bend but don’t break strategy as did Arizona and Oregon state for the most part.

    • QuackAddict

      Forgot that LSU was the first team I really saw do this strategy in 2011 and it was effective at making the ducks earn all their yards.

    • FishStaff

      Hey Quack,

      That is an excellent suggestion, and one that I will dive into with relish…in the offseason. I have some coaches that also have feedback on that as well.

      Please email me charles@fishduck.com as I have a question for you.

      Thanks-Charles

      • QuackAddict

        I used a fake email… I will email you from my actual account when I get home from vacation.

  • Jim

    Texas lost the bounce and quick cut back ability when Johnathan Gray went down. Brown and Bergeron can pound the rock but the lack of a TE threat in the passing game has left Texas very predictable on offense. Our speed sweep play maker, DaJe Johnson is out due to academics. Since this is a bowl game, look for a few trick plays, coming from the arm of Jaxon Shipley. He’s probably the best thrower on the team and that’s sad. Also look for some playing time out of true freshman QB Tyrone Swoopes. He’s big, not fast, but effective with his feet. Most fans have been calling for a package of plays with him that incorporates the zone/read and waggles to get him on the move and also force a defense to play cover 0 in spread sets. Texas has the athletes to hurt anyone in space… they just don’t have anyone who can get them the ball. Big if’s but if Robinsons was brought in last January and David Ash doesn’t go down, Texas is probably in the Fiesta Bowl with 10 or 11 wins. Instead, it’s the Alamo vs a very good BCS calibur opponent and Brown on his way out the door. If they players have bought in to send him out the right way, I look for Texas to keep it close. But according to reports and rumors, it sounds like some of the team has checked out. I expect Oregon to win going away in the 2nd half. 49-24 Ducks.

    • FishDuck

      JGman & Jim,

      Thanks for the excellent commentary to help Oregon fans enjoy the game more, and I appreciate you taking the time. I had heard about the LBs, but didn’t want to pile on too much, and heard the rumors about Swoopes, but did not want to write about it without further confirmation.

      I wanted to touch on TEs as the Coach was not impressed, but everyone is impressed with Shipley, but my article was already at 1,500 words… So thanks you two, for helping to fill in the gaps on information as you brought some MEAT to the discussion as opposed to all the stats we see on other media outlets.

  • GJman65

    Nice article Fish. I think the coach is correct in most parts. First off, Major is heralded for his amazing comebacks from behind. I’m not sure that he panics when behind as much as he resorts to what he is used to. He could mount those major comebacks and did it passing first to set up a big run. Case does not have the talent to do that but unfortunately the coaches have not learned that. If they continued to run and control the clock when they were behind by one score, they would have had a chance to win in some of the loses.
    Second, the weakness in this team is the lack of speed at Linebacker. The cornerbacks are actually pretty good but our safeties have trouble due to the slowness of the LBs.
    Most Longhorns would have loved this matchup a few years ago but now they are terrified of the whooping that the Ducks will give the Horns if they come out passing with success from the get go.
    The one thing Longhorn fans are hoping for is that the Ducks are disappointed in the bowl game they got, over looking an 8-4 team, and just don’t care to be playing. That just might be enough for Texas to stay in the game.
    Prediction – 20 point win for the Ducks.

  • FishDuck

    We have a statement from Coach Staley for those below who disagreed with Lee’s remarks about Major Applewhite…..

    “When Major was a player, he was an undersized, slow-footed athlete with a weak arm. However, he was savvy and read defenses well. He was also a winner when he had a decent line and athletes to distribute the ball to. He was given a lot of well-deserved autonomy to audible at the line of scrimmage. When Texas would get behind, Major would frequently audible out of runs. His default instinct was to pass and pass again when Texas fell behind. He was often successful and did lead a lot of come from behind wins. (See 2001 Big 12 championship game (a close loss when down 3tds at half and almost completed comeback) and the 2001 Holiday bowl when he engineered a 25 point come back against Washington).

    However, as a Coordinator he has the same instincts but with much less favorable results. When Texas is behind, he defaults to an air attack. The problem is that this instinct goes against Texas’ strength this year. So, when I say he panics, I should have said as a player, he relied too much on the pass, (but, again, it often worked for him because we was capable of passing frequently without the back-breaking mistakes). Now, when Texas gets in trouble—i.e., behind by more than one score, he often “panics” in that he abandons the run too soon in favor of a decidedly ineffective passing game (due to the weak QB position, as Case is not near the QB Major was).

    For a prime example of this, see this year’s Iowa State game where Texas was averaging 5.2 ypc in first half, but after falling behind in the second half chose to throw on 3 out of every 4 plays. Case ended up throwing over 50 passes for the game, whereas Jonathan Gray and Brown collectively ran it less than 10 times in the second half. In sum, Major did not necessarily panic as a player, but he did have the tendency to abandon the run when given the opportunity. As OC, Major has shown the same predilections toward the pass when Texas is in trouble rather than sticking with the game plan and remaining patient with the run. You can call it inexperience or lack of confidence in his game planning rather than panic, but the result is the same: Major has shown an inability to stick to the game plan and gear the offense to Texas’ strength when Texas gets behind.”