Why The Horns Aren't The Running Horns

Technical analysis: a coach's look at the Longhorns' persistent running game woes.

[Editor's note: This is typically a subscriber's only column, but because of the importance of the subject matter, we've opened it to all viewers. We ask, though, that you consider becoming an InsideTexas.com subscriber if you are not already one (for more info on all of the benefits of subscribing, go to ESPN The Magazine Included With Total Access Pass). As we continue to add subscribers, we will also continue to add more and more in-depth and unique analysis columns like that provided by Kissinger and Bert Hancock in his Strength in Numbers feature to go along with our commentary by Clendon Ross and Michael Pearle, beat coverage and commentary by Bill Frisbie and ever-expanding recruiting coverage by Stacey Dean.]

Although I could (and will in my next column) write volumes on what happened to the defense this past week, there are more pressing needs. When I walk down the street, when I'm at the barbershop, when I'm on the Internet, the one question I hear more than any other is, "Why can't the Longhorns run the ball better?" I will strive to answer this question today.

The problem is not just one thing, it is many things, and I don't know how many of them are correctable. Frankly, I don't know how much it matters anymore this year with the majority of the team's goals dashed with the loss in Lubbock.

Here are the problems (in no particular order):

  1. An offensive coordinator who refuses to change his scheme to fit his offensive line personnel -- As an offensive coordinator or head coach, you have two choices when things aren't working…change the scheme or change the personnel. I've seen too many games this year where a big play has been blown because Greg Davis has asked Jason Glynn to reach block a DT on his snapping hand side. I think the blocking scheme for the line needs to change. I would like to see more double-teams at the point of attack and less zone. You really don't have many options on the offensive line as far as substitutions. Therefore, the blocking schemes must change.
  2. An offensive coordinator who refuses to change his fullback personnel to fit his scheme -- I don't think Ivan Williams gives you much help with the running game from the fullback position. Indirectly he helps, because he gives the opposing defense another weapon to consider. Maybe this takes some of the spotlight off of Cedric Benson, but it hampers the running offense greatly. As opposed to the offensive line problems, a capable backup that fits the running game ideas is available in Matt Trissel. A simple change in fullback personnel could be the tonic that helps cure some of the ills.
  3. The teams the Longhorns are playing -- People always want to look at failure in their football team as something internal that's missing. Sometimes the external forces of the opposing defenses play a bigger part than anything the offense is doing to itself. I am not just talking about the defensive talent abundant in the Big 12, but the fact that teams crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run. If the run game were working perfectly (like the passing game is now, for the most part) people would be asking what was wrong with the pass offense. You can only take what the other team gives you. However, I don't want you to think that the problems come only from without, and not from within.
  4. The predictability of the play calling -- Defenses have an easier job of stopping the run when they know it is coming. Although there have been some first down passing plays, they are only a result of the defense loading up to stop the run on first down. Don't even get me started on 2nd and 5. Texas might as well take a knee on those plays, because the defense knows what is coming. However, if the first three things weren't such a problem, the Horns would be able to line up and run on anybody, anywhere.
  5. Lackluster play (at times) from the tailback position -- I'm about to lose my position as a writer for Inside Texas, so I want to say it's been fun. This is the one position that no one really points a finger towards. More people will blame Chris Simms for the poor running game than will put any blame on Cedric Benson. Cedric Benson is not perfect, and he may not even be the best tailback on the team. He has strong points and strong games, but he has been making some poor runs and poor decisions along the way. For every Iowa State game, for every tough yardage run he had for a first down at Nebraska, there has been a big play avoided by Cedric Benson hitting the wrong seam or hitting it too slowly. Benson seems to have the most trouble running the ball inside the pulling guard's kickout block on the defensive end. Too many times, Benson tries to bounce the ball outside of the block to the exact point where the guard is blocking him. However, Cedric might be a little gun shy. I would be if a defensive tackle that was supposed to be reach blocked by the center on his snapping hand side leveled me two or three times a game. Also, if Greg Davis wants to keep the zone blocking scheme, I think Selvin Young might be better at running behind it than Benson. He seems to find the seam and hit it quicker.
  6. Poor offensive line recruiting -- I think this is probably the least of the problems, but it has to be pointed out, nonetheless. While Texas has had a good run of offensive line recruits, the unit the Horns have on the field this year is filled with solid but not spectacular players (Robbie Doane), overachievers (Tillman Holloway), underperformers (Derrick Dockery), budding superstars (Jonathan Scott), and those in their own category (Glynn and Beau Baker). I'm not saying the players that have been recruited are poor, but there is a gap in the offensive line stars. The Class of Beef was one year too late. However, there wasn't a whole lot of meat on the table the year before. Sometimes you are forced to take what is available out there. I also think the obvious lack of regard for a strong center is starting to rear its ugly head. Too many great centers have been overlooked and undervalued by the coaches and recruiters. We are paying now for our sins of the past. Dallas Griffin is three years too late.

I hope that I have made this a little clearer for you. Maybe I just muddied the waters more and forced more questions. I'm not sure. The only way to fix this is to change some things in the offseason, whether it is coaches, players, or schemes. For now, we must live with offensive inconsistency, which often leads to mediocrity.

Mark Kissinger has coached high school football in Texas and Tennessee, coaching OL, TE, WR, DT, DE, and serving as both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In high school, he was coached by the legendary G.A. Moore. Mark recently retired from coaching and received his M.B.A. from Rice University. His 'Technical Analysis' column appears each week on InsideTexas.com.