- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas – Usually with these film reviews, we look into a short list of plays that swung a game. This week we’re digging a little deeper, because truthfully the Longhorns didn’t just beat No. 12 Oklahoma 36-20 on a couple momentum-shifting plays. They won on a mentality.
Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite defined the mentality as “playing your ass off.” He said it was about so much more than plays and schemes.
His offense won the day on Saturday by doing something few expected: Texas overwhelmed the Sooners at the point of attack and owned the line of scrimmage. This wasn’t about tricking or outsmarting OU. This was all about overpowering them.
So, after reviewing the tape, let’s take a closer look at five things we learned about Texas’ suddenly dominant power rushing attack.
1. No need for explosives
Texas ran the ball 59 times on Saturday for 255 yards. The two longest rushes of the afternoon were for 38 yards and 13 yards. Texas had only one other rush of 10 or more yards on the day. So there was really no way to pad the stats, and by the traditional definition (12-plus yards) there was very little “explosive” rushing.
That’s part of what makes the rushing performance on Saturday so fascinating. Texas was grinding, plain and simple. Johnathan Gray gained four or more yards on 15 carries. Malcolm Brown got four-plus yards on 16. Together they had three carries of eight-plus yards.
Texas branded itself this offseason as having a high-tempo spread in the vein of Oklahoma State or Oregon.
In their biggest game of the season, in the Big 12’s marquee game year after year, the Longhorns played like a Big Ten powerhouse.
2. Attacking the middle
Of Texas’ 59 rushes, the running back went up the middle 40 times. Think about that.
The Longhorns didn’t set out to attack the edge with tosses and sweeps. They hit the middle of the field hard and were richly rewarded. Maximum credit must be given to Texas’ offensive line for their best four-quarter showing in a long time.
Gray attacked the middle on 22 of his 29 rushes. Brown did on 17 of 23 and was the more effective back in that capacity at 4.5 per carry.
As a team, Texas picked up nearly two-thirds of its rushing yards up the middle and averaged almost 4.1 yards per carry. It’s safe to say the Sooners missed defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson on Saturday.
One caveat: Not all of these were designed dive plays. Over and over in this game, Texas backs read their blocks and changed direction to maximize their gains. Again, the credit goes to those big men up front.
3. Finding their formations
About half of Texas’ rushes against Oklahoma came out of the pistol formation. In addition to 29 plays out of that look, Texas ran 16 plays from a single-back set with Case McCoy under center and had as many plays from an I-formation (six) as from shotgun.
Gray’s 38-yard dash came on a draw play from a two-back shotgun set, but the I-formation and pistol proved most effective in the long run. Texas averaged a healthy 3.5 per carry in the pistol, and four of the six I-formation runs went for first downs.
The line about Texas playing like a B1G team is particularly fitting when you notice how often Applewhite used the two-tight end combo of Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels. Daniels was almost always next to the tackle and Swaim moved all over the field. They’re two of the unsung heroes of this offense.
4. First downs and third downs
I wrote last week that Texas would need to create more second-and-short situations for its offense to thrive. Guess not.
The Longhorns ran the ball on first down 25 times against OU and gained two yards or fewer on a third of those plays. So yeah, they dealt with more than a few second-and-longs and turned out just fine.
Interestingly, they went back to the run on second down 24 times and averaged an impressive 4.3 yards per carry. Texas also ran the ball 10 times on third down and picked up conversions six times. Mix in some timely deep passing from McCoy and it was enough to keep the Big 12’s No. 1 defense on its heels.
5. What this means
Texas doesn’t need to break out this blueprint week after week to win with McCoy as its quarterback, so don’t jump to that conclusion. This was the right way for Texas to attack Oklahoma. Don’t assume this is the rebrand going forward or that we’ll see another plan or performance like this one in 2013.
That being said, Applewhite and the offensive staff deserve serious praise. They kept it simple and let the run set up the big pass plays. Their players executed and manhandled OU up front.
Instead of dwelling on how McCoy could run an offense designed for Ash, Texas set him up to succeed and rode the talents of its top two backs. And yes, the Longhorns played their butts off.