In 2018, two plays run by the Texas offense have stood out not necessarily because of their design, but because of their successes.
The double dig routes from two receivers aligned to the boundary and QB sweep are very simple plays. The WRs run in unison, breaking their routes off at around five yards, while QB sweep is an attempt to get a large runner momentum before taking on defenders.
Texas has run it successfully in most games this season, but there were important instances against Oklahoma that revealed if Texas needs short yardage or a score from short yardage, the playcalling collaboration will look to these two plays first.
On the first play of the season against Maryland, Texas lined up on offense with Lil’Jordan Humphrey on the boundary side slot and Brennan Eagles close to the sideline. Eagles was on the field due to an equipment violation by Collin Johnson, and both Humphrey and Eagles ran dig routes from the boundary.
The play failed as either Eagles wasn’t in the correct spot, or Sam Ehlinger sailed the throw well away from his rangy freshman. That play looked terrible, and it was, but throughout the course of the year it would become one of Texas’ go-to plays to pick up medium yardage.
The double-dig route with Humphrey and Johnson aligned to the boundary has been successful in almost every game. It got tough yardage against TCU, KSU, and more recently, OU, specifically on third down.
Texas head coach Tom Herman was asked about this play Monday, and made it clear he knows other teams have noticed this. With how often Texas runs it out of the two-WR-into-the-boundary set, the Longhorns are inviting teams to try and stop them.
“We want to get the ball to 84 and 9 on third down,” Herman said. “I don’t think that’s any secret.”
While this play’s use has been effective on third down, Texas used it multiple times throughout its win over Oklahoma.
Like here on second down against cover three…
Or here on third down, when Johnson fights the OU defensive back for the ball…
Obviously, Texas has something working here enough to where if the media is noticing it, other teams are as well.
Herman is cognizant of this. Referencing Brian Billick’s “Developing an Offensive Gameplan,” Herman said that because teams are so rarely in third-and-short situations (1.8 times per game according to Herman), teams really only need a couple of plays that work so as not to waste time working unnecessary plays at practice.
He also noted that this play likely has become a trend for him.
“When you self-scout, defenses are going to play tendencies,” Herman said. “There’s no doubt about it. Tendencies are good if you continue to be efficient at them.”
Third-and-13 isn’t the same as third-and-medium, but because Texas had used the double dig route so successfully, Oklahoma remained vigilant for it in a situation that might not have called for it.
Oklahoma places two defenders in the way of the digs to make sure Texas doesn’t burn them one more time with the same play. As a result, Johnson releases for a go route one-on-one against a shorter defensive back.
It didn’t work here, with the incompletion giving Oklahoma the ball back for their tying score, but it showed Texas can play against tendencies it reveals throughout the course of the game.
This happened once more later in the game, with the Longhorns once again taking advantage of one-on-one coverage of Johnson in order to move down the field with a pass interference penalty.
The double dig has become one of Texas’ go-to medium yardage plays. When Oklahoma started recognizing the play’s success and indicators, Texas started running other plays out of that formation. It burnt Oklahoma, which will in turn force defenses in the future to remain honest about playing the double dig.
“You want to have complements to your bread and butter plays, and I’m sure you will see more of those as the season progresses,” Herman said.
Which could lead to more Texas first downs in third-and-medium.
One of the Longhorns’ other “two runs and one pass” needed for short yardage situations is QB stretch.
It has been unsuccessful for the Longhorns a handful of times this year at most. As Ian pointed out, Texas ran it 5 times for 25 yards and three scores against the Sooners.
The advantage in this play for the offense comes from the numbers, but also from who is running the ball.
“Our QB runs, for the most part, are downhill runs,” Herman said postgame Saturday. “You’re talking about a 6-2, 235 pound guy that can move a little bit and has the toughness and strength that he has. It would be foolish not to use him in those scenarios.”
Texas did twice to score in the middle half of the game. On second-and-two from the nine, Ehlinger ran stretch and ended up getting the score late in the second quarter. Then early in the third, Ehlinger did the same from five yards out on first down.
After success running the same play in similar situations twice, Oklahoma was looking for it the next time Texas got within the ten-yard line.
They sent everyone to defend stretch, leaving Calvin Anderson, Patrick Vahe, and Zach Shackelford with equal numbers, and a huge cutback lane for Ehlinger to use for this third rushing TD of the day.
“The whole defense was over there, and it was a will versus will thing,” Herman said Monday. “Especially the last touchdown Sam scored there was a few different unblocked guys over there that Sam found his way to kind of weave around.”
Texas has a consistent advantage in this situation. Not only do they normally have numbers, but also a ball-carrier with a mentality that he has to score.
“The guys trust in me to go get that one yard, and I trust myself to do that as well,” Ehlinger said postgame Saturday.
At five yards per carry with three scores against Oklahoma, the offensive collective can trust the play to gain more than just one yard.