Five Quick Thoughts: Spring game 2021

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While the spring game was indeed somewhat vanilla for Steve Sarkisian, Texas showed a fair amount on film today. They were obviously running their base schemes and sparing the motion and tempo but still mixing in a lot of concepts and looks. They picked up a third and two early in the game running the famous “duo” scheme from 12 personnel and still mixed in some spread RPOs of the sort they were often hesitant to run under Tom Herman.

Given the format, effectively pitting the first team defense (White team) against the first team offense (Orange team), the narrative could be about the relative strengths of either unit but there was a rather jarring factor to this game which it’s going to be hard to overlook. Despite playing behind shoddy (worst than first team, even) protection and without the top weapons on offense, Hudson Card was able to guide the White team to a 20-12 victory.

The Orange team had a number of weapons in the fold including Jordan Whittington, Josh Moore, Troy Omeire, Cade Brewer, Jared Wiley, Juan Davis, Gabe Watson, and of course Bijan Robinson all working with the first team offensive line. Hudson Card worked primarily with Marcus Washington, Al’Vonte Woodard, and Kai Money with Roschon Johnson and Danny Young handling the run game.

Card got substantial help from the first team defense, particularly Moro Ojomo who had multiple sacks and pressures, and D’Shawn Jamison who made a pick-six backed up on his own goal line. Neither offensive line offered the sort of timely protection you’d prefer to see as a fan of both teams and Hudson Card was able to drive the ball late only to take a sack to force a long field goal which Cameron Dicker missed.

We’ll have an offseason and fall camp for this team to iron out some of the issues on display in this scrimmage and settle battles like quarterback one but this game certainly suggested where things are headed.

Quick thought No. 1: The game was settled on two goal line throws

Casey Thompson made several nice throws, especially over the middle, to set up a chance at a touchdown before the half while running some two-minute offense. Then Thompson stared down Jordan Whittington outside, forced the ball in, and was pick-sixed by D’Shawn Jamison to give the White team a 13-9 lead going into the half.

This is the “vision quarters” coverage by the defense with Jamison playing with zone eyes on the quarterback and some freedom to break on the flat route if you stare it down. Thompson did and the Orange team couldn’t recover.

In the second half, Hudson Card led the White offense down to the goal line and on a third and four zipped in a brilliant, anticipatory throw to Marcus Washington for a touchdown to make it 20-9 for the White team.

Man coverage from the defense and Card saw it developing and zipped the ball into a very narrow window before the wide receiver had broken up.

Between those two throws you have 14 points in a low scoring game and this was the difference. The White team (first team defense, second team offense) didn’t have much of a path to victory other than keeping the score down, scoring on defense, and getting some number of points and play-making from Hudson Card but they got it. More on the overall White team in our other thoughts, but Hudson Card certainly outplayed Casey Thompson in this game.

On the day, Casey Thompson was 25-43 for 253 yards at 5.9 ypa with zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Card finished 16-24 for 188 yards at 7.8 ypa with one touchdown and zero interceptions.

The battle will continue into the fall, but Card certainly “won” the scrimmage by posting better numbers, making more plays, and earning the win for his unit while playing with less offensive talent.

Quick thought No. 2: The first team offense is really is about the run game

While Sark gave Casey Thompson the chance to throw the ball 43 times and try to get the win back from Card, they were clearly doing their best work in the run game emphasizing Bijan Robinson. In fact, Gabe Watson also had several nice runs moving downhill on the first team defense.

The best drive for the offense was the first one, which was heavy on a variety of 12 personnel runs for Bijan Robinson. The drive ended with this beauty:

This is a power run from 12 personnel and the cutback by Bijan is ridiculous. Schooler really didn’t think he’d turn that back in but Bijan can turn on a dime and maintain balance before having some burst. On the day Bijan had 10 carries for 54 yards at 5.4 ypc with one touchdown and seemed to have equivalent production in the passing game catching endless check downs from Casey Thompson.

The Orange offense was at their best under Casey Thompson when emphasizing the run game and then throwing the football on rollouts. Thompson has improved considerably since he first arrived in Austin and made a few nice throws from the pocket, particularly when throwing crossing routes over the middle. But he’s at his best on the move with the ability to throw a deep crosser, a check down, or scramble. When he was trying to push the ball outside from the pocket, there were some issues and some apparent arm strength problems. Hudson Card executed a few more RPOs than Thompson and was able to hit some outside throws, including an out on third down to Kai Money to a tight window.

Quick thought No. 3: Moro Ojomo was a disruptive force

Ojomo had at least two sacks by my count and potentially could have had a few more. He was blowing by Texas’ guards, occasionally Hayden Conner but sometimes the first team guards as well. Texas showed a few different fronts in this game but their use of the tite front is certainly something to monitor heading into the season.

Jacoby Jones is a good player who will get his snaps, but a tite front with Moro Ojomo and Alfred Collins at the 4i defensive ends with Ray Thornton on the edge is certainly a look Texas may want to mix in heavily next season. Collins and Ojomo are both great 3-techniques and they’ll use them as such but they could put both of these guys on the field at the same time as well if they like and really deal some damage to opposing offensive fronts.

Texas clearly has a lot of guys on the defensive line who can blow up blocks and get pressure on the quarterback. Prince Dorbah flashed a few times and got into the backfield while Keondre Coburn was his usual self owning the middle of the field. We’ll see a variety of fronts and looks designed to force offenses to execute when it matters while blocking superior athletes.

Quick thought No. 4: Welcome Xavier Worthy!

Texas secured a commitment from 2021 4-star wide receiver Xavier Worthy, who will be in Austin as opposed to Ann Arbor. Beyond the fact Texas needs sub 11.00 second 100m sprinters in this offense to really nail Steve Sarkisian’s vision on offense in general, there were a few hangups in this game from the wide receiver corps.

Things got off to a slow start with Josh Moore dropping a nice post from Casey Thompson in the end zone and then several second team receivers dropping otherwise strong Hudson Card throws. Eventually Jordan Whittington was able to show some of what has people excited for his spring, namely the ability to reliably bring the ball in and be hard to tackle, while Troy Omeire flashed some.

There is an opportunity for talented wide receivers to force their way into the offensive rotation come the fall though and Xavier Worthy is the first to throw his hat into the ring.

Quick thought No. 5: Team identity is coming into focus

The winning side was able to win this game by playing effective red zone defense, getting their eyes on the quarterback in the secondary, making disruptive plays with the defensive line, and hitting on some RPO throws in the passing game. This is a good formula for winning in the Big 12, especially with a running back like Bijan Robinson featured in the run game and a field goal kicker like Cameron Dicker (4-5 in this game with a 58-yarder), provided they can protect the ball on offense.

Therein lies the trick.

It can be difficult to protect the ball with young quarterbacks and inconsistent pass protection. The offensive line had a few miscues keeping Thompson upright and Jared Wiley had a particularly ugly moment covering the backside against a nickel blitz. Both quarterbacks are good at keeping plays alive with their feet but if Texas can’t protect them neither will be able to consistently protect the ball and probably neither of them will stay healthy either.

For this coming offseason Texas needs the various components of the passing game to continue to improve, perhaps infuse some extra talent at wide receiver, and then be ready to lean on a special running back and athletic defense to carry them through the season. If they can keep their quarterback clean early in the season and avoid losses, there’s a chance they could be a terrifying team later in the year.

History major, football theorist.