No quick fix for Texas' true offensive issue

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas built its grand plan for 2014 around a downhill run game. We found out why on Saturday: This team simply cannot win without one.

Charlie Strong will stew over this 41-7 loss to BYU because his defense didn't get the job done. He'll steam when he watches the film of a team that, in his unvarnished opinion, wasn't ready to play.

"It's an embarrassment," Strong said. "It's an embarrassment to this program. It's an embarrassment to this university. And I knew it, and I didn't do anything about it, and I take responsibility and all the blame for this loss."

He has every reason to be frustrated. But he should know this isn't going to get any better or any easier until Texas solves offensive problems that aren't easily fixable with one week of elbow grease.

What we witnessed in Strong's first loss at Texas was an offense doomed by a seemingly simple domino effect. When the offensive line can't consistently handle its foe, the running backs have nowhere to go, the quarterback is handcuffed and the receivers are of no use. Let's go one at a time here.

The offensive line is not going to be a consistent, cohesive unit. At least not for a while. And not against elite defensive lines. The left tackle played defensive tackle last year. The left guard is the veteran of the group at three career starts. The center was making his first start. So was the right guard, a fourth-year junior whose only action came on scout team. The right tackle is better at guard.

Individually, they are fine players. Together, they didn't stand a chance at owning the line of scrimmage against BYU.

Their leader, Dominic Espinosa, is likely out for the season. And the ever-mercurial Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle could be in for a long stay in the doghouse of the suspended. Strong won't say how long they're out.

"We can't go to a waiver wire. We've got what we've got," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "We've got to work with it and got to find our way through it."

The running backs, as talented a duo as Texas could ask for, had little room to breathe on Saturday. They gained 2 yards or less on 18 of 28 carries. They combined for 2 yards on three third-down rushes. And you can't call that their fault.

The quarterback and receivers, well, what can you say? When the power functions of this offense are punchless, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes faces steep disadvantages. Strong and Watson were absolutely adamant they liked how the sophomore debuted.

"Tyrone played really well, to be placed in the position he was in," Strong said. "Just very pleased with Tyrone. … He totally managed the offense and did a great job."

Texas won't ask him to be a risk-taking gunslinger, not at this phase of his development. They kept it simple, hoping tempo and quick completions would lead to good things. Swoopes wanted to take deep shots early. Maybe it's best they didn't, considering a 6-0 halftime deficit that was more than manageable.

More trust in Swoopes will come in time, but take away the run game and you get what we saw Saturday: a dink-and-dunk pass game that has real trouble (3-of-15) on third downs and has zero chance of surviving four turnovers.

You get what Texas fans feared all week long.

This Longhorn offense played exactly how it should've when you understand what's missing. You just can't put an offensive line on the field with that little experience and expect a miracle from everyone else, no matter how elite your backs look on their best days.

This was Texas' worst home loss since 1997, but the worst might be yet to come. UCLA, a bye, Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma -- there's the next five weeks. The forecast might look bleak, the fixes won't be easy, but at least now the problem is more obvious.

It's not rock bottom. It's only the second game, Strong said repeatedly. But we did get a wake-up call to what that seems so obvious on paper: Texas has a patchwork line and an inexperienced quarterback, and that's not changing any time soon. Until the run game reemerges, this will be a downhill offense in the worst way.