Offense regroups with pieces missing

AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown, a coach with decades of experience, sat down Bryan Harsin, an assistant with only a few years experience, and made two strong and quite possibly impactful points Sunday.

"The number one thing is we can't plan on Joe [Bergeron] and Malcolm [Brown] to be ready on Saturday, and we can't plan on either of them playing the whole game if they are ready," the Texas coach said he told his co-offensive coordinator. "Because for two weeks we've been waiting, and Malcolm hasn't been ready for the two and Joe wasn't [ready for Missouri], and we anticipated that he would be. [The trainers] can't tell you what is going to happen. They don't know if a guy is going to get better or worse.

"Secondly, we've got to try and make things as simple for our quarterbacks as we can."

Now Harsin, who is in his first year at Texas and only his sixth year as an offensive coordinator, has to take those words and formulate an offensive game plan for a team that couldn't score against a team that had given up 30 or more points five times this season.

Past evidence suggests Harsin might have trouble doing that. In the three Texas losses, the offense has generated three touchdowns, completed just 52 percent of its passes, had five interceptions and rushed for 114 yards per game.

And two of those games were with a full complement of healthy players.

Now Texas has to face Kansas State, the third-best team on the schedule behind Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, without Fozzy Whittaker, who is gone for the season with a knee injury, and quite possible without Bergeron (hamstring), Brown (turf toe), wide receiver Jaxon Shipley (knee) and tight end D.J. Grant (leg). Those players have accounted for 23 of Texas' 31 offensive touchdowns. Whittaker has another two on kickoff returns.

Their replacements: Jeremy Hills, Cody Johnson, DeSean Hales, Miles Onyegbule, and the other tight ends on the roster, have accounted for four touchdowns, all by Johnson on short-yardage runs from his fullback position.

It's wipe-the-brow, grow-the-worry lines time for Harsin. Or maybe it isn't.

"We've got guys that have all taken reps in the schemes that we're going to run, pass-game wise or run-game wise," Harsin said. "That won't change. It is a matter of when you get to that point, who is going to be plugged into that role. And then we will figure that out from there."

Is anyone else seeing Kevin Bacon standing amidst the chaos at the end of "Animal House" yelling "Remain Calm. All is well?"

All is not well at Texas. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that nothing is well on the offensive side of the ball for Texas.

This was a team that had unearthed its identity by digging in and grinding out a run game. Without its top three backs, that running game ground to a halt. Texas had 76 yards against Missouri. Baylor, one week earlier, had 291.

"The thing you look at is, we had an identity, and all of the sudden that identity was gone in the first quarter of the Missouri game, and we tried to change some things during the game and they didn't work too well," Mack Brown said. "So we got to go back and regroup. What can we do to score more points to win the ball game on Saturday?

"Kansas State is finding ways to win."

Kansas State has a scheme built around its quarterback. Texas had a scheme built to protect its quarterback. That's the big difference.

To get a better outcome this week, Texas is going to scale things back for quarterback David Ash. That won't be an easy thing to accomplish considering he might not have the run game to protect him.

But there are a few things Texas can do that might facilitate a better passing game. The first is to roll Ash out of the pocket. Harsin said Ash is very good when he throws on the run. This might allow Ash more time, and it could help him get into the flow of the game better if he is allowed to use his feet and react, rather than sit in the pocket and think. This also helps out the offensive line, which took a huge step back against the Tigers.

"We've got to make protections simple," Brown said. "When we're not running, it we haven't been a great pass-protection team."

Additionally, Harsin must get Ash to focus on the intermediate routes -- provided there is a healthy receiver who can run them.

"We got deep happy Saturday," Mack Brown told Harsin. "Get some easier throws. Make the quarterbacks more comfortable."

Do all that, and maybe the words Brown has for Harisn next Sunday will be of praise instead of wisdom.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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