*Because of the high volume of questions I receive from readers daily, I’m thinking about doing a weekly mailbag column instead of trying to answer everyone’s questions in the comments section. Send your questions to OgletreeFootball44@gmail.com and I’ll try to get them answered*
The 15th ranked Texas Longhorns come to Provo as 7.5 point favorites on Saturday after a 56-7 pounding of the New Mexico State Aggies.
The Longhorn defense allowed 104 rushing yards and 242 passing yards (32/46) in their opening game against a much-improved New Mexico State offense. My initial takeaways after watching the game on TV were that the UT defense is very talented (especially on the D-Line), very fast, not overly physical, and a bit relaxed at times (you can get away with that when you’re thumping a team by 40+ points).
Before I get any further into the whole the scouting report, I’d like to give BYU fans some brief, personal insight into Texas Longhorn football.
• In the State of Texas, football is king, and that is very hard to understand unless you’ve actually experienced it. Luckily, the closest similarity I’ve found to the football culture in Texas is one that many BYU fans will be familiar with, and that is the influence of the LDS church on the State of Utah. If you understand the way the LDS church shapes policy, understanding, civic behavior, and daily life in Utah, you can comprehend the effect that football (High School, College, and Professional) has on Texans. The way Provo gets down for the Fourth of July is how Texas cities get down on Fall Friday nights. There have been movies and TV shows that try hard to depict what high school football means to big cities and small towns in Texas, but I thinks it’s just one of those things that you have to be there to get.
• UT is the Shangri-La for every Texas High School football player. Besides a college football dynasty, Austin boasts a beautiful downtown, nice scenery and weather, a booming arts district and “weird” culture, excellent restaurants, and plenty of other attractions that appeal to young adults. It is also the largest city in America without a professional sports team (insert speculative jab here about inappropriate booster/student-athlete interactions), which makes UT football the hottest ticket in town. Even Heisman winner and king of nearby College Station, Johnny Football himself, cant resist the urge to attend UT frat parties. He even has a Longhorn tattoo. Yesterday BYU receiver Ross Apo (who originally committed to Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns) was asked in an after-practice interview what the allure of Texas was for a kid like him, to which he answered: “Just the logo, the Longhorns, you know, nobody that grows up [in Texas] wants to go to A&M or SMU or schools like that. Everybody wants to go to Texas.” For UT, this means they usually have their pick of the litter when it comes to recruiting, which furnishes them with an elite recruiting class year in and year out. If you’re a top athlete and Texas doesn’t recruit you, you’ll likely end up at a school on UT’s schedule and carry an gigantic chip on your shoulder every time you play them because you feel snubbed and over looked. Even freshman sensation Jameis Winston, a 5-star recruit from Alabama who started his career brilliantly for Florida State last week felt it necessary point out in an interview that he wanted to go to Texas, but Mack Brown never offered.
• UT is a tremendously proud football program, and due to their success in recruiting they go into every season with high expectations. In this respect, they are in elite company with only a handful of schools: Alabama, LSU, Florida, Ohio State, and possibly Michigan and USC. When you constantly bring top talent onto the team every year to replace the graduating NFL-bound talent, there is not much latitude for a “rebuilding year” like there would be at other places. After several seasons of underachieving by UT standards, the buzz coming out of Austin is that this is the year that the Longhorns are talented, disciplined and have enough leadership in key places to make a BCS run.
The only game I’ve watched for this analysis is UT vs NMSU from week 1 of the 2013 season. Every singly Longhorn defensive snap of that game can be seen here.
Despite getting blown out, the Aggies actually were able to hang very tough in the first half, leading 7-0 until a couple minutes before halftime before UT blew the doors open and never looked back.There are three Longhorn players that I singled out defensively, and unfortunately for BYU’s reshuffled offensive front, all three are on the Texas D-Line.
#55 Malcom Brown, 6’4, 305, DT Brown moves very well for how large he is, and dominated the NMSU O-Line with relative ease. Physically, Solo Kafu and Manaki Vaiti can match his power at the guard position, but Brown’s quick feet and hands are rare. It will be a tall task to keep Brown quiet after his 7 tackle effort against a solid NMSU offense. (Side note: It warms my heart to know a 300-pounder from Brenham, TX)
#88 Cedric Reed, 6’6, 260 DE
Reed absolutely put in work versus NMSU. He was constantly in the backfield disrupting plays and dominating the B-gap with a great combination of size, speed, and power. With BYU’s Michael Yeck switching this week from RT to LT, and Brock Stringham switching from RG to RT, the UT defensive staff will use Reed to exploit both players in their new positions. Last week Reed had 10 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and 2 QB hits.
#44 Jackson Jeffcoat, 6’5, 250, DE
Jackson is the son of former Dallas Cowboy defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, so here is my obligatory mention about how he grew up around the game and “has a real feel for football.” Genealogy and genetics aside, Jeffcoat has been a mainstay on the UT D-Line since 2010, and coming into his senior season he’s built a very impressive résumé. Even though he’s listed as a DE, Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz uses him a lot like BYU employs Kyle Van Noy; as an edge rusher and change-of-pace pass dropper. Like most of UT’s players, he’s big and moves very well. He notched seven tackles last week against NMSU.
New Mexico State’s offense is philosophically similar to BYU’s, using a fast paced spread style attack. I expect BYU to study the film and see a couple of things that NMSU had success with, specifically Bubble Screens, TE (Y) Peel Motion, Peel Ride, and Naked/Boot combinations.
By far NMSU’s best play was the bubble screen (5:20 left in 2nd quarter). It’s a really simple route concept proliferated by Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and the idea is to isolate a perimeter player with a 1 on 1 matchup in the flat. The reason it works is because against any zone scheme versus a spread offense in empty formation, there will always be at least one high safety lined up over a wide out, usually with a down safety or corner lined up over the other wideouts to each side. On the snap of the ball, the receiver who the high safety is on will “bubble” back to receive a pass while the other wideout(s) to his side block the down defenders, (theoretically) leaving a 1 on 1 scenario between a wide receiver in space and a high safety coming from depth. If the blocking receivers are able at all to wall off their defender from the ball carrier (30 seconds left in the 1st quarter), the play will usually go for at least five yards, just because it takes time for the high safety to come down. It is also a very difficult tackle in space against a shifty receiver. NMSU ran bubble screen several times successfully against Texas, who’s secondary is very athletic but not very physical. They missed several perimeter tackles last week.
NMSU also had success last week with peel motion, bringing a Tight End across the formation on the snap of the ball with the assignment to kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage. Against a zone read attack like BYU and NMSU both run, the end man on the line of scrimmage plays a pivotal role in either accounting for the quarterback keep or the dive, depending on the front and play. By using the TE to block back, the offense can add an extra blocker to a side, creating an extra gap that’s unaccounted for. If the Inside Linebacker’s eyes aren’t right (and against NMSU the UT ILB’s missed several of these) the QB or RB can both spring and gain hefty yardage. UT plays a very base scheme. No smoke or mirrors, with lots of man defense. If the LB’s eyes are not right, BYU needs to take advantage with their RB’s and inside WR’s in the passing game.
Another variation of the peel ride is Peel Pass and Y delay. Basically the TE comes from across the formation in motion or on the snap of the ball, and instead of blocking out on the end man of the line of scrimmage, leaks into the flat. Again, depending on if the LB’s or flat defender are reading their keys or not, this play could be wide open. Y delay (13:50 left in the second quarter) works the same way, but instead of motioning from the opposite side of the formation, the TE lines up on the “play” side, and basically acts like he is blocking for a quick second or two before releasing into the flat. The reason Y delay can work is because of the way LB’s eyes are trained. In a zone scheme, if the TE blocks instead of releases into a route, a linebacker is taught to look for the next route coming in or out. As soon as his eyes go elsewhere, he can miss the TE sneaking into the flat, and then is late getting there after the ball is thrown. NMSU used bootleg and naked action on a lot of these plays to provide their QB with throwing windows vs. a stellar D-line.
I mentioned earlier that Texas is a very proud program. Schematically, their pride can teeter on arrogance. A prime example of this is with 2:33 left in the second quarter, the score tied 0-0 and NMSU is marching the ball nicely down into Texas territory. It’s 3rd and 5 from the 11 yard line and Texas brings a full house blitz, leaving two corners and a safetey man to man on NMSU’s 3 WR’s. Obviously Manny Diaz is rolling the dice and going for a sack to end the drive and force a field goal, but any time you leave man to man coverage in the Red Zone, that is the ultimate insult to an offense. It’s saying our DB’s who don’t know where you’re going are better than your receivers who do know where they’re going, and we’ll get to your QB before he figures out what’s happening anyway. The NMSU Qb dropped a nice ball in on a corner route over the safety for NMSU’s only touchdown of the game.
Obviously, the Texas coaching staff never felt like the game against NMSU was ever in danger, so rolling the dice on a first half drive wasn’t too hard of a call. They weren’t trying to insult NMSU, they were just trying to get off the field. However, after watching BYU’s Offense struggle against Virginia, I doubt that Texas is coming into Provo with any shortage of confidence either. A lot of people have written this BYU team off after week one, and maybe they’re right in doing so. But, good football teams and coaches always make their biggest leap in improvement from week 1 to week 2 of the season, and this is a great chance for the BYU offense to rise to the occasion against a very talented defense. They way you beat UT’s defense is the same way they try to beat you. Make 1 on 1 plays against them and pressure them to remove help from the box. The combination of Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, and Mitch Matthews will have 1 on 1 opportunities against smaller defenders, and I cant think of a defensive back in the country that should be able to guard any one of those three man to man without safety help. If the BYU quarterback can get them the ball, Jamaal can be Jamaal, and the O-Line can keep the Texas D out of the backfield, BYU will give itself a great chance on Saturday.
*A Scouting report of the UT offense will be up by Friday*