What Wickline, Watson bring to Texas

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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Charlie Strong has more than six months to come up with his answer to the question, but Texas fans will demand to know by March.

What kind of offense will the Longhorns install this offseason? That’s all anyone has wanted to know since Strong was hired earlier this month.

The answer he’s offered up so far: A spread attack with a power run game.

“You look at Louisville, and we weren't a spread team. We lined up and had a good mixture. It is all about balance,” Strong said last week. “You look at Oklahoma, and it is a balance and what you want to see, a balance with your run and pass.

“You can talk about all those teams that throw the ball around, but at the end of the day, if you can't line up and run downhill and punch somebody in the mouth, then you are going to have issues.”

Strong is planning to marry the concepts and talents of offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, one of the nation’s premier offensive line coaches, with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, his OC at Louisville.

Let’s take a closer look at what Wickline and Watson achieved at their previous stops. If they can come anywhere close to recreating their recent success, Texas’ No. 66-ranked scoring offense in 2013 could be in for some promising changes.

Wickline at Oklahoma State

Wickline helped oversee one of the most successful offenses in in the country while coaching the Cowboys’ offensive line. The numbers certainly back that up.

Since arriving at OSU in 2005, Oklahoma State has had the No. 3 scoring offense in FBS with an average of 37.7 points per game. Over that same nine-year tenure, OSU ranked No. 5 nationally in total offense, fifth in yards per play and ninth in yards per rush.

Just as impressive: The Wickline-coached offensive lines gave up the third-fewest sacks in FBS over the past nine seasons.

Wickline comes from an offense that was best in the Big 12 in scoring, rushing, yards per play and explosive plays of 20-plus yards over the past nine years. His QBs were kept clean, averaging fewer than 15 sacks per season, and his rushers thrived, with four different backs combining for six straight All-Big 12 honors.

You can attribute that to Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. You can credit the six different offensive coordinators OSU had during those nine years. It truly is remarkable production for that much staff turnover. But give Wickline his due credit, too.

His offensive lines protected and paved the way for six top-20 offenses. Quarterback Zac Robinson started 36 games in his career and was sacked a total of 32 times. Brandon Weeden (26 starts) went down 21 times in his career. Clint Chelf took 18 sacks.

Meanwhile, Colt McCoy was sacked 92 times in 53 starts. David Ash has 22 starts and has already been sacked 30 times.

We don’t know what Wickline brings to the table as a play-caller. But we do know he helped build the foundation for one of the nation’s best spread attacks and comes to Austin with a wealth of knowledge on how to install a similar scheme at Texas.

Watson at Louisville

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTexas hopes to see a big improvement in its offense with the addition of Shawn Watson to the coaching staff.
The three-year averages of Watson’s time as Louisville offensive coordinator are, well, average.

Since the start of 2011, Louisville’s offense ranked No. 53 in scoring and No. 58 in total offense nationally. But those stats don’t explain the growth the Cardinals enjoyed under Watson.

Just compare the offenses of 2011 and 2013. A 21.9-points-per-game offense evolved into 35.2 per game, which ranked in the top 25 nationally. Total offense went up 127 yards per game in two seasons, and Louisville went from 90th in FBS in yards per play to 12th.

The Cardinals enjoyed year-to-year improvements in nearly every major offensive statistic from 2011 to 2013, while remaining faithful to a 50-50 run-pass split.

And there is one statistic the Cardinals truly hung their hat on over these past three years: Their offense turned the ball over just 44 times, which tied with Alabama and Navy for second fewest in FBS. They had the fewest turnovers in the country in 2013 with 10, a number only three teams have bested in the past decade.

And yes, Teddy Bridgewater had an awful lot to do with this progress. You can also argue that Louisville’s conference competition weakened over this period due to realignment.

But the results are real, and it’s not hard to see why Strong brought Watson with him.

How Watson and Wickline will collaborate on this Longhorn offense remains to be seen. But if their last jobs are any indication, the future of Texas' offense appears to be in capable hands.

Max Olson | email

Big 12 reporter

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