- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
The following is a modest proposal for a Texas run game that still hasn’t figured out how to take over games.
Learn from your recent foe, Kansas, and try doing as the Jayhawks do. It’s time to see what the Diamond formation can achieve for this Longhorn offense.
Call it what you want -- the Fox Sports crew referred to it as the “triangle” or inverted wishbone formation -- but you must concede it’s effective. The versatile three-back pistol set helped KU moved the ball and open up holes against Texas.
Kansas lined up with three running backs surrounding quarterback Michael Cummings a total of 17 times on Saturday. Those plays netted 75 total yards, or more than a quarter of KU’s total offense.
The aim was simple: Taking pressure off Cummings by getting the ball into the hands of Kansas’ best speed weapons, James Sims and Tony Pierson. The No. 3 back was often Christian Matthews, a former quarterback-turned-receiver who could run the option when given a handoff.
The biggest plays out of the set? A 19-yard run by Sims, a 15-yard touchdown run by Matthews and one big third-down conversion in which Matthews made a late, surprise pitch to Pierson for a 3-yard gain.
On his score, Matthews lined up right of Cummings, took a sweep left and watched as his blockers shoved pursuing Longhorns defenders around, paving a path to run untouched into the end zone.
As Matthews put it to KU reporters after the game: “It opened up like the Red Sea."
He owes his thanks to a dangerous set that forces defenses to key on four players and worry about a variety of potential outcomes. Kansas experimented a little but kept things fairly vanilla, with Sims rushing on 11 of the 17 plays.
At this point, perhaps you’re wondering: Who cares? Why does this matter to Texas?
The Diamond formation just might be one fresh solution to a Longhorn flaw that must be faced. Texas has too many good backs and not enough ways to get them the ball.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has tried to address this by utilizing more two-back sets and motioning Daje Johnson and D.J. Monroe into and out of the backfield. They’re still not getting many touches.
Consider the possibilities. Flanking David Ash and Johnathan Gray with two more backs provides lots of headaches for a defense. Anyone can take a handoff or catch a pass. Ash can run an option play or fake a handoff and throw downfield.
There’s more lead blockers and more opportunities for the most talented unit of this Texas offense.
To be fair, Kansas’ overcommitment to this scheme didn’t help much late in the game. The Longhorns eventually caught up.
KU netted 21 yards on their nine carries out of the Diamond in the second half. The game began to swing when Kenny Vaccaro snuffed out a third-down Diamond option play for a 3-yard loss to start the fourth quarter.
But Texas already has enough wrinkles to its offense. This one might be even deadlier when used sparingly.
Harsin is no doubt familiar with the formation. He’s lined up in Diamond on a couple plays this season. Perhaps he was just feeling it out then. Malcolm Brown’s imminent return and the unmistakable rise of Gray only further complicates where the Longhorns' run game goes from here.
There’s no way to give Brown, Gray and Bergeron the ball at the same time. There is, however, one way to get all three on the field.