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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Texas trying to turn it up on offense

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- Back in Texas’ halcyon days, when everything was fast, furious and -- here is the big one -- successful, the Longhorns averaged 74.5 plays per game.

Back then (2007-09) the Longhorns had the talent to fit the scheme, the quarterback who understood the urgency and accuracy, and the experience of having been in an up-tempo system for several years.

What Texas has now is the hope that it can surpass what it once did when it was at its best. Coach Mack Brown’s pie-in-the-sky goal is to average 84 plays a game. Now he and Texas have to make sure it doesn’t end up as a pie-in-the-face goal.

David Ash
QB David Ash and the Longhorns will play at a much faster pace in 2013.
To do that the Longhorns have to eschew what they are going against -- time -- seeing as how there really hasn’t been much since they made the declaration to speed the game up (December 2012) to when the clock stops ticking (Aug. 31). Texas has been scrambling in that time, trying to do everything necessary to make sure that when the time does come, it is prepared.

Practice drills were changed. Conditioning this summer has been altered to make sure there is a heavier emphasis on speed and lung capacity. Depth has been emphasized so that "we don't play anybody 70, 80 plays a game, and that has not been the case the last two years on either side of the ball," Brown said.

The offensive players were even made to practice sprinting and getting the ball into the hands of the officials as quickly as possible so that the ball could be marked and subsequently hiked with few precious seconds ticking wasted.

Surely this all won’t be wasted effort. Texas will average more than the 68.5 plays it averaged during its 9-4 season of 2012. But it might not be plausible to believe Texas can increase its plays per game production by 15.5 in just one short offseason.

The reasons for that are myriad, from just flat-out inexperience to the fact that in order for the offense to have the ball, the defense has to take it from someone rather quickly. And the 2012 defense rarely managed to do that. Texas’ defense allowed 5.9 yards per play and a 71 percent conversion rate on fourth downs, plus more yards than any defense in program history. That defense should be better, but it still might not be good enough to get the ball to the offense enough times that it can run 84 plays per game.

But the main reason to doubt that Texas can increase its offensive production by an average of 15.5 plays per game is that teams just don’t make that dramatic a leap. Oregon, in year one of Chip Kelly (2007 as offensive coordinator), averaged 79.1 plays per game. That was just 5.5 plays more than the previous season. Even in his last season Kelly’s Ducks averaged 81.4 plays per game.

The most dramatic leap in the Mike Gundy era at Oklahoma State was 10.4 plays per game from 2006 to 2007. And that came in years three and four of his tenure and that offense.

Oklahoma is the only current Big 12 team to ever actually average more than 84 plays per game. The Sooners did it in 2010 with 86.5 plays per game. Even then that was just a nine-play increase from the previous season, and it was with an offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, who had been with OU since 2002 and in that position for five seasons. (Texas’ Major Applewhite is in his first season as offensive coordinator and entering his sixth season as an offensive coach.)

At West Virginia it has taken two seasons to go from 69.8 plays per game under coach Bill Stewart (2010) to 76.8 under Dana Holgorsen (2012).

Remember when Rich Rodriguez introduced a fast-paced offense to Michigan? Well, the average number of plays actually fell from 74 in Lloyd Carr’s final year to 66 in Rodriguez’s first. In moving to Arizona last season, Rodriguez was able to boost the Wildcats' play production to 83.2, a 7.5 play per game increase.

But again, that’s only half of the number Texas is trying to reach in its first season of up-tempo offense.

Where Texas does have an advantage from some of those other programs is that while the speed has changed, the offensive coaching staff and the personnel it will work with has remained largely intact. Ten starters return, along with a host of backups. Applewhite, while in his first season as a play-caller, is at least a familiar face in the program, as is co-offensive coordinator Darrell Wyatt.

And the playbook is not being replaced. The plays are just being turned to a Tufnelian "11."

"The offense won't change that much except the tempo, and there will be less shifting and motioning," Brown said. "It's the same plays."

Just maybe, if Texas has its way, many more of those plays.