Strength in Numbers: The Prevent Offense


Posted Oct 17, 2002


Who says Greg Davis isn’t "creative?" He’s taken the concept of "sitting on a lead" to new heights, sometimes without even leading in the first place.

Regarding the defensive side of the ball, we commonly witness a defensive coordinator installing a prevent defense late in the game. When utilized too soon, it often works to prevent the defense from succeeding. Well, Davis has figured out a "prevent offense" now. His scheme virtually guarantees all that blue-chip talent will be stifled with an array of inside runs and five-yard passes. Taking this strategy to the nth degree, he doesn’t wait until the fourth quarter, but instead implements this as early as the first or second quarter.

While Texas does occasionally call for a bomb, there is likely a cautious undercurrent even then; in the likely worst case scenario, an interception on such a play often is as good as a punt. The thought process seems to be one of avoiding losing rather than attempting to win. The very nature of the "prevent offense" acts to negate a normal advantage the offense has: what play is going to be run. This malady doesn’t seem to occur against a Tulane or Houston, but when Oklahoma shows up on the other side of the field, the fetal position becomes a reflex reaction.

Every time the Longhorns have faced the Sooners the past three seasons, it’s more than obvious much of the time what Davis is going to do. Quoted Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after the third straight OU victory over UT: "It wasn't terribly different than what we've done in the past," regarding his defensive strategy. Indeed, there seems little need to alter it in light of the way the Texas offensive coordinator is calling the plays.

Perhaps most damning are the hard numbers that provide an air-tight case that the Texas offense is badly underperforming against strong defenses in relation to its talent level, but especially against Oklahoma. And please folks; spare putting the sole blame on the quarterback. Chris Simms, as some might recall, was not the starter in 2000 when the Longhorns were laying a goose egg for much of the game while the Sooners ran away. While his performances are clearly a part of the equation, the main blame has to lie at the feet of the coaches in light of the immense amount of talent they wield but often fail to use properly.

The statistics don’t lie: I went back and reviewed all games Oklahoma has played beginning in 2000, and then just considered the opponents that were played at least twice for the purposes of accumulating more solid data than just single-game performances. Texas, at this stage, is the only team OU has met three times during that time span, which actually solidifies the validity of UT’s offensive ineptitude even further since the turn of the century.

Oklahoma has faced ten opponents twice (at least), which includes some exceedingly anemic offenses: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Tulsa, and UTEP. Keep in mind that the latter two are not even members of a BCS conference.

Texas, in those three contests, has averaged a microscopic 24 yards per game rushing versus OU. That ranks ninth, only ahead of Texas Tech’s invisible 7 yards per game. A key to remember though is in Mike Leach’s offense, the rushing game possesses almost no importance compared to what it does for Greg Davis and the Longhorns. Just realizing that Texas is 37-0 under Mack Brown when it outrushes the opposition proves this. Meanwhile, even hapless Baylor and Tulsa have managed to average 88 and 75 yards rushing versus Oklahoma. Those totals somewhat dwarf what Texas has acquired, despite the Longhorns possessing an enormous edge in talent, even taking the very best those two schools offer.

Unfortunately, it’s not merely a matter of game conditions forcing the Longhorns to evacuate the ground game, because they also rank next-to-last out of the ten teams in yards per carry. UT has averaged a "stellar" 0.9 yards every time it rushes the football in the last three Red River Shootouts. Again, only ground-less Tech places behind Texas. Sadly, the likes of UTEP (2.8 ypr), Kansas (2.4), and Baylor (2.8) all possess 1.5 to 2 yards per rush better stats than UT when facing OU’s defense.

While the Texas offense, in large part, lives and dies with the run, perhaps the passing game has been able to make up for this and provide the Horns with respectable total yardage numbers as the Sooners sell out to stop the run. Such a hope or assumption would be wrong. Only Tulsa (one of the worst programs in Division I-A), with an average of 183 total yards, fares worse against OU than Texas does in this category. The Longhorns have averaged 201.7 yards per game the last three Octobers in Dallas. Amazingly, puny Baylor and UTEP outdistance Greg Davis’ group by 66 and 82 yards.

Based on any recruiting rankings, high school A-A accolades, and press clippings available, Texas possesses offensive talent second-to-none, yet cannot even approach the miniscule figures eked out by undermanned offenses like those of Baylor, UTEP, or Kansas and is far exceeded by Kansas State, Nebraska, and even Oklahoma State. Only last year, in fact, K-State rushed for 189 yards and passed for another 257, totaling 446 against Oklahoma. To put this in perspective, Texas has only managed a total of 380 yards the last two games combined.

But the real killer comes back to the rushing game, as applies to most teams, but especially the Longhorns. Perhaps the most convincing number that provides the reason for the struggles versus the Sooners are those paltry ground totals. Consider last year’s Kansas Jayhawks, a squad whose offensive ineptitude (ranked 113th out of 115 teams in total offense) cemented the firing of head coach Terry Allen. The Jayhawks, with the 91st-ranked rushing game, gained only 84 yards on the ground against the Sooners during yet another loss (only won two games all season versus I-A teams). But that total is more than what the Longhorns have managed in three years combined (73 yards)!

In inquiring why the Texas quarterbacks have struggled mightily in Dallas since 2000 and why OU owns a three-game winning streak, the above numbers scream the answer. The combo of a non-existent running game and a heavy dose of "dink" passes has proved suicidal against the Stoops brothers. Texas fans, unfortunately, can expect more of the same if drastic changes are not implemented.

Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears weekly on InsideTexas.com.


Related Stories
Strength in Numbers
 -by LonghornDigest.com  Oct 24, 2002
For Offense, This Time It Was Personal
 -by LonghornDigest.com  Oct 27, 2002
Why The Horns Aren't The Running Horns
 -by LonghornDigest.com  Nov 19, 2002

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