One of our favorite offseason topics every year is the numbers and allocation of the precious 85 scholarships. Where Texas should load up with talent? Where do they skimp on numbers? What kinds of talents make for the best classes and bring about future success? The fact that Texas regularly outperforms most of their competition in recruiting and yet doesn’t have much to show for it doesn’t quite get as much scrutiny as whether X or Y player/savior is likely to fax in his letter.
Texas’ search for defensive linemen has become a pretty fascinating topic this offseason. The team is struggling to find depth at the position, losing both existing players and committed recruits at the position. The search for the now notorious “4i-technique” linemen who can fit Todd Orlando’s 3-4 defensive scheme is becoming a major theme in the recruiting story.
The 2015 recruiting class was one of the most athletic collections of defensive players that the Longhorns had signed in this decade. Malik Jefferson headlined the group and was joined, by order of 247 ranking, Anthony Wheeler, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, DeShon Elliott, Davante Davis, P.J. Locke, and Breckyn Hager to round out their defensive backfield class. Now in year three we are finally seeing how the pieces fit together.
In the last column I explained how defending Big 12 run games is primarily a measure of how well a defense works in concert to fill gaps and get hats to the right places. Defending the pass in the Big 12 isn’t like that at all, there’s real skill and overpowering athleticism involved in the execution of these attacks and simply getting guys matched up in the right spots is not enough to guarantee success.
Woody Allen once said that 80% of life is showing up and perhaps nowhere is this more true than when attempting to stop the run against Big 12 offenses. If you’ve ever wondered how it was that Texas could be so poor in run D over the years despite regularly fielding blue chip talent across the defensive line and in the linebacker corps a simple charting exercise of how they defend the as a unit in a given year usually reveals the answer. They didn’t show up in the right gaps at the right times and thus none of their physical attributes made a lick of difference.
We’ve spent a good deal of time discussing Herman’s schemes as well as the various players he’s inheriting and how they can be best deployed in his attack. However, we’ve mostly glossed over the play of the foundational pieces to the 2017 attack. That’d be the offensive line, featuring Connor Williams (23 starts), Patrick Vahe (19 starts), Jake McMillon (five starts), and Zach Shackelford (nine starts).
When Texas either strongly targets or signs a quarterback, I like to deep dive into his high school film. There’s obviously only so much you can tell from watching highlights, after all. You can see movement skill and some of where a player is at in terms of fitting into a scheme and team concept but it’s a very partial picture. With other positions I don’t worry about that as much, but quarterback is such a cerebral position that I want as close a look as I can get.
It might be strange to discuss Texas tight ends so much since there’s a decent chance that Texas will spend half or more of their offensive snaps next season without one on the field. That said, Herman clearly wants to make them a priority within the offense and some of the targets on the board for this next recruiting class (Mustapha Muhammad and Malcolm Epps for instance) are potential game-changers.
Texas really only utilized two blitzes in the spring game. When you consider the wide world of disguises, stunts, pressure combos, and back end coverages in Orlando’s playbook it’s easy to understand why both the first and second team offenses would be in such sorry shape against the defense in the spring. They each struggled some against the two blitzes that they saw in the spring and it’s easy to see them getting overwhelmed facing Orlando’s full arsenal.
The 2017 Orange and White game might have featured some vanilla schemes on offense and defense but they still put enough on tape to make some features of the Longhorn identity discernible and to put the fear of God into the rest of the Big 12.