The Texas QB position has been an absolute mess now for four of the last five years and this is unquestionably the primary reason on the field for the program’s lack of success and utter turmoil over that period of time. This sad state of affairs is clear enough to everyone but there is less clarity on how the problem gets solved.
Our last Humidor report had “cobra” Kai of Locksley (still settling on a nickname here) taking the early lead in unofficial offseason QB drills, no doubt due to his arm strength and ability to make the throws outside the hash marks that this system requires to work optimally.
But a redshirt freshman with a background running the Wing-T and rarely throwing the football in live settings would be facing a tough transition to becoming the QB at the biggest school in Texas in charge of a option read and pass-heavy offense. The Longhorns already have a target on their back in every league game and are now embracing an offense that every defensive coaching staff in the Big 12 already makes an offseason priority. The prognosis for this problem getting solved in the short term is not fantastic.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns are adding a 4-star, Elite 11 QB recruit to the equation with early-enrollee Shane Buechele of Arlington, TX to brighten the prospects of Texas finding an end to this horrifying QB drought. Once he’s adjusted to life on the 40 Acres and starts to feel his oats in the new offense, is there a chance he could be part of the solution in 2016? And even if not, what kind of QB has Texas brought aboard in young Buechele?
I dove deeper into the film to learn answers to those questions and this is what I found.
Shane Buechele and the Lamar offense
The fact that Lamar failed to reach the quarterfinals with this offense is a testament to how incredibly loaded 6A Division II is for Texas HS football. Their offense was very Baylor-esque in the way that it was designed to put extreme spread stress on every area of the field.
Unfortunately for Buechele and his teammates, they ran into the Mansfield machine, who also rolled through FM Marcus and Denton Guyer before finally getting taken down in the semifinals by Lake Travis.
Lamar had a very imposing running game thanks to the presence of 6-foot-4, 320-pound future Crimson Tide OL Chris Owens, who played right guard in this game for the Vikings. They loved to run Leach-style fold plays where he’d make a quick pull to the opposite side of the center and lead between the tackles for their backs and it was a difficult tactic for HS defensive fronts to handle.
The rest of their OL was all right but their LT was totally unable to handle Mansfield’s DEs, which gave the game a little bit of a Denver vs New England vibe to it.
Out wide the Vikings were loaded both with overall quality (they had at least four worthy WRs and a solid TE) and a few stars like Kofi Boateng, who’s headed to Arkansas, and Draven Cantley.
Boateng and Buechele weren’t able to land many knockout blows on the Mansfield D with the deep passing game, but still threw the ball around more than well enough to give the Tigers a real scare. Indeed the game wasn’t over until the clock hit :00 and Buechele’s final target had been tackled short of the goal line (final was 34-29).
The Vikings had a great deal of early success with this play:
The Tigers were rotating primarily between cover 3 and a variety of quarters where both safeties roll to the field and leave the corner on the backside isolated on that Z receiver. The benefit of those tactics was that Mansfield was able to keep their strong safety in position to make plays against the run and its sam linebacker stayed near the box, the result of which was that Lamar couldn’t really get their run game going other than picking up 3-5 yards here and there running behind Owens.
Buechele made them pay early and often for packing so many defenders in the middle of the field with with the dig route, the flat route, and also with the backside hitch. However, he was unable to connect enough on either deep alert routes and threw both an INT and a deflection on underthrown balls trying to punish Mansfield deep.
Lamar was ultimately defeated because Buechele stared down a stick/option route too long over the middle and allowed the linebacker on the opposite side of the field to wander over and jump in front of the pass outside of Buechele’s peripheral and then house the return.
Lamar was also hurt by the effectiveness of the Mansfield DEs both in getting a lot of quick pressure on Buechele but also in playing wide contain that limited him to only a few effective scrambles. Neither of those factors were particularly concerning for evaluating Buechele’s eventual ceiling as a college signal-caller.
Here were the main takeaways from watching Buechele battle through a high-level, full game that aren’t as easy to pick up from watching selected highlights.
First, his quick release and ability to throw accurate balls from different parts of the field withstood an examination of a full game where he faced a brutal pass rush. Buechele’s baseball background really shows up in the way he never seems terribly uncomfortable in getting a good throw out without having to set his feet carefully and deliberately.This is a big deal in the RPO (run/pass option) phase of the new veer and shoot offense which requires that the QB be able to make quick reads and quick deliveries so that the offense’s spacing can do its work before the defense finds the ball.
There were three examples of Buechele’s release and overall flexibility that particularly stood out from the game, which you can find in its entirety here. The first was his one great deep route at the 13:12 mark where Buechele finds the safeties and moves his eyes over to the isolated receiver before uncorking a perfectly-led deep ball for a TD.
The next was a play at 22:14 where Buechele reaches his third read in the progression before throwing a flutterball that doesn’t reach his target. This was the only example I found where he was unable to easily fling an accurate pass out and it came when he was trying to quickly hit his 3rd read under pressure.
The last came at the 2:19:20 mark where Buechele made a Favre-esque play and somehow threw a comeback route while being tackle from behind from an arm angle so bizarre that it looks like you’re watching a Madden-glitch where the QB’s arm enters another dimension and then comes back without the ball, which is somehow downfield in the hands of a receiver. I think he was actually trying to fling it out of bounds but regardless of that reality, this was amazing.
As I’ve hinted at with my notation on Buechele’s one poorly thrown ball, Shane has excellent vision that becomes apparent from watching him process a defense over the course of a game. He regularly gets through his reads well, generally makes great decisions with his throws and scrambles, and almost always throws his receivers open or at least doesn’t throw with poor placement that thwarts the receivers’ potential to pick up yards after the catch.
Finally, Shane is still a smaller guy who would get killed if he tried to make it through a full Big 12 season starting this spring. He’s currently listed at 185 and that might be a tad generous. He’s plenty strong, as evidenced by his ability to nail throws into windows down the field, but he was clearly feeling the effects of getting banged around by Mansfield and things will get much worse in the Big 12.
In terms of his skill set and frame, Buechele reminds me a very great deal of Colt McCoy. The “baby-faced assassin” played his redshirt freshman year at 195 and couldn’t quite survive the season, though he was a tad unlucky in that regard. He ended up reaching 210 by his senior year, which allowed him to run the ball more but Colt still had to be protected in order to reach the end of the season.
In a healthy program, Buechele redshirts or at least sits on the bench in year one and spends a few quality offseasons with Pat Moorer before he’s asked to replicate his scrambling and designed runs at this level of play. Other than his physical stature, where is Buechele in terms of QB development?
Let’s revisit the four levels of QB play again before plotting Buechele on the chart.
Level 1: A QB who is too limited to unlock a complete system of offense:
Current B12 example: Joe Hubener (KSU)
Level 2: A QB who can master a full system of offense.
Current B12 example: Davis Webb (formerly Texas Tech, now Colorado)
Level 3: A QB who is dominant within a system.
Current B12 example: Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)
Level 4: A QB who is good within a system but can also consistently create offense outside of what the system creates for him.
Current B12 example: Baker Mayfield (OU)
As a HS quarterback, Buechele was a Level 4 QB who’s combination of quick decision-making, quick release, and ability to throw vertical routes made him a fantastic fit for allowing Lamar to attack defenses at every area of the fieldsometimes simultaneously. On top of that, he was able to add a running element to help open up interior lanes and was very effective scrambling out of the pocket either to buy time to throw or to pick up yards with his own legs.
At Texas, in the new veer and shoot offense, Buechele has shown the basic competencies necessary to execute the essential elements of the offense. He can throw the bubble screens and quick routes outside of the hash marks, he throws a solid deep ball, and he can make run or pass reads and deliver an accurate ball in that narrow time window that’s available on these concepts.
The major potential obstacle to him reaching Level 2 status as a freshman is with the common veer and shoot response to odd fronts that use 46/Bear defensive tactics to clog the interior lanes of the sort that teams like OU regularly use.QB option plays are a regular feature in the offense.
This power-read play is often a favorite way to attack three-down linemen teams that pack their DL between the tackles by overloading the perimeter with blockers. It’s basically an outside sweep combined with a traditional downhill power run with the RB serving as the sweeper and the QB running the power element.
The way it works is that the QB reads the DE and keeps the ball between the tackles if the DE tries to get wide to stop the RB from winning the edge behind the caravan of lead blockers. It’s hard to see that being a regular part of the plan with Buechele at QB since it requires the QB being willing to run downhill and behind his pads and potentially getting lit up by a linebacker in the hole.
Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox could evolve their approach to attacking these types of defense with more stretch blocking, like Tom Herman did at Ohio State in 2014, but removing the possibility of regular QB option runs would certainly limit the offense. Baylor had to be more conservative when its backup-less, true freshman QB Jarrett Stidham was forced to take over and it cost them dearly against the Sooners.
So long as Buechele remains both smaller and unable to withstand the beating of a round-robin Big 12 schedule as well as inexperienced within the new system and against B12-level defensive complexity, it’s unlikely that he’ll reach either Level 2 status or his possible destination as a Level 4 player.
Texas landed exactly the kind of QB prospect they’ve been missing for the last several years. A kid with skills that translate to the college game, who has physical upside as he grows into his eventual college S&C body, and who has that wonderful combination of field vision and arm strength that has eluded UT’s QBs for the last half-decade.
If Texas could find him a reliable possession receiver in addition to the multiple candidates to be Iso-weapons on the outside (John Burt, Collin Johnson, Davion Curtis), Buechele could be the foundation of a truly terrifying passing game.
For that reason, he may end up being the best option to lead the Texas attack in the fall, but like another skinny Horns’ gunslinger we all remember, his big moment is still a few years down the road.