In the wake of what was the pummeling at the hands of Oklahoma, Texas coach Mack Brown turned to co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and told him to tone down the offense.
It was all too much too soon. Texas’ offense, which was in its infancy in both personnel and play calling, could not adroitly execute double-reverse passes and the like against the experienced speed of the Big 12’s best. So the call was made to keep it simple.
Even a casual glance at Harsin’s history of coaching and one at the more mature Texas offense, and it was clear all that simplicity simply couldn’t last. Add then two more letters of the alphabet -- T and Z -- to the soup that has become the 2012 Texas offense.
“We're working on it,” Brown said.
What Texas is working on is a way of adding a hybrid-type position on the field for all the hybrid players that it has on the roster -- D.J. Monroe, Daje Johnson and even Johnathan Gray on occasion. The “T” part of the equation is tailback. The “Z” part is wide receiver.
“That means they'll line up in the backfield some, and you'll shift and motion them to a Z position,” Brown said. “We have to figure out what all that means.”
What Texas wants it to mean is that it can spread the defense out more and then exploit the holes that are created by the separation of defensive players. This, as Monroe proved with his 6.8 yards per carry average in 2011, can be extremely effective.
But as Monroe and the offense also proved, spreading he defense worked best against those defense that were already porous. His biggest games running the ball came against Rice, BYU and Baylor. Texas has to figure out how to make it work, consistently, against teams like Kansas State and Oklahoma.
“We feel those guys are speed guys and can get the ball in their hands and help us with explosive plays,” Brown said. “They're working hard this summer on getting packages to get D.J. more involved, but Daje, to get him involved early in the process because we think he has a chance to be a good player with his explosive speed.”
Those explosive plays are crucial to Texas. The Longhorns, a team that struggled to score last season and were eighth in the Big 12 in that category, had 61 scores. Fifty-nine of those scores came as a direct result of an explosive play -- runs of 10 or more yards, passes of 20 or more -- or at the end of a drive in which Texas had an explosive play.
So it is clear Texas needs to generate explosive plays. Adding the hybrid T-Z position is the way it wants to go about doing just that. And with a more experienced offensive line, wide receivers who are willing to block downfield and a more relaxed and savvy quarterback, it could work.
But the potential fly in the soup is the Z part of the equation.
Monroe’s hands are a liability. And Johnson’s are an unknown.
“We haven't seen [Johnson] catch because he was a tailback,” Brown said. “But we feel like that's what we're looking for.”
Monroe started to work on his hands in the spring. It has been a long process. Johnson has been on campus and working with the quarterbacks since June. The coaches are unable to do what they do during the summer, which is coach. But they have continued to work with the new scheme.
"The coaches will spend a lot of the summer trying to expand on what that means,” Brown said.
What it could mean is that Texas has more versatility and Harsin a few more options when it comes to opening up the playbook in the fall.