Is 2020 the year of Shane Buechele?

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,302
63,677
0
Ypsilanti, MI
Heading into the 2016 Texas spring game, I had a word of caution for my Twitter followers that were about to watch the scrimmage on the Longhorn Network. I reminded everyone that the previous springs had featured wildly misleading incidents before and not to overreact. An easy example was in 2014 when Tyrone Swoopes looked completely incompetent until the second half, when the defensive coaches sent in the back-ups against the first team offense and called off the blitzing. That led to some “Swoopes started poorly but he settled in!” narratives that didn’t survive scrutiny and proved inaccurate during the season.

There are things to be gleaned from spring game scrimmages, but they often require a very careful look and a good idea of the surrounding context of vanilla gameplans, scripted series, and defenses that sometimes adhere to the non-aggression principle.

Then the game started. Within about a series or two I had flip flopped. “Nevermind all that, Shane is the starter in 2016. Bank on it.”

What Buechele showed in a few series of running new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s offense was timing and accuracy in the passing game that Texas hadn’t had virtually all decade. With Charlie Strong in a make or break year, there was little chance that they’d trust the new pass-first offense in the hands of anyone else on the roster.

That following season Buechele was successful in throwing for 2958 yards at 7.6 ypa with 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. For the most part his job was to throw RPOs well enough to keep the alleys clear for D’Onta Foreman, who had 323 carries for 2028 yards at 6.3 ypc with 15 touchdowns. Texas was terrible on third downs, finishing 34.9% in league play, and had a sack rate of 7.35% with Buechele behind center. The offensive line was solid on the left side with sophomore Connor Williams at tackle, but spotty elsewhere. Right tackle and overall blitz pickup, both on the part of the linemen and the quarterback, were glaring weak spots.

They weren’t particularly good at anything save for running RPOs for D’Onta Foreman or, at times, taking shots on play-action when teams would play man coverage in order to load the box to stop Foreman.



When the 2017 offensive line collapsed after losing both fall camp starting tackles and the only solid tight end (Andrew Beck). Shane Buechele injured his shoulder in week one and struggled to stay healthy all year, drifting in and out of the lineup along with freshman Sam Ehlinger. The following year (2018) Ehlinger took over with Buechele only serving in spot duty to hold off Baylor and preserving a redshirt while graduating. Then he headed off to Dallas with two years of eligibility to spend playing for Sonny Dykes.

Buechele at SMU

Things really took off for Shane in Dallas. Sonny Dykes had hired Rhett Lashlee, Gus Malzahn’s longtime coordinator at Auburn, to run the show for the Pony Express which led to a different approach than you’d normally see from an Air Raid squad.

SMU in 2019 settled into an identity as a 12 personnel team, utilizing big senior Ryan Becker (6-5, 248) as the blocking tight end/fullback and then ironically employing Sam Ehlinger’s former high school teammate Kylen Granson (6-3, 235) as the move/flex tight end.

This gave them incredible flexibility to emphasize their two main skill players, running back Xavier Jones and wide receiver James Proche. Kylen Granson could move around and be an extra blocker for either of them in SMU’s various RPO designs. Flexing out into the slot to block for screens to Proche or moving into the box with Becker to help block zone or power for Jones.

Granson was also a highly effective receiver, nabbing 43 balls for 721 yards and nine touchdowns. He was dangerous getting vertical out of the backfield on wheel routes, slipping down the field on play-action, or simply flexing out and running routes like a normal wide receiver.

This is akin to Oklahoma’s 21 spread they have operated at a high level when they have an effective fullback and flex tight end, such as in 2017 with Dmitri Flowers and Mark Andrews, or likely in 2020 with Brayden Willis/Jeremiah Hall and Austin Stogner.

With a fullback/tight end hybrid in Becker on the field, the Mustangs could regularly mix in a lot of downhill run game in which Granson was blocking smaller defenders, either on the perimeter or on the edge of the box.

Here’s a 21 personnel set with Becker at fullback and Granson flexed off the line to go pick off a safety on a power run:


And Becker as the inline tight end and Granson working outside of him on a tight zone run in which Buechele also has the option to flip an out to Proche if the Midshipmen don’t cover it.


Essentially the Mustangs could move Granson around either to overstress opponents or to hold their attention in one spot so that they could create space and 1-on-1s for one of their featured skill players elsewhere. Such as on this game-winning slot fade to Proche against Tulsa when the Golden Hurricane yielded a 1-on-1 matchup outside the numbers trying to get numbers in the box:


Buechele's job was to distribute the ball into the hands of athletes working in space created for them by the hybrid utilization of Granson and the run/pass conflicts created by the offense. He was very effective in that role, as he'd shown flashes of doing at Texas back in 2016.

The year of Shane Buechele at SMU?

Dave Campbell Texas Football made Shane Buechele their cover man for the 2020 season. After throwing for 3929 yards at eight ypa with 34 touchdowns, 10 INT, and a sack rate of only 3.3%, it looked like Buechele had finally settled in as a star passer.

The context in 2020 could be pretty different for the Mustangs though with a few key changes occurring. While Buechele had some big numbers in 2019, the real crux of their strategy was using their 21 spread personnel package to manipulate matchups and create space and isolations for Xavier Jones and James Proche.

For the 2020 season the Mustangs will be without either of those two stars as well as fullback Becker. They’ll also be without Rhett Lashlee, who was poached by Manny Diaz at Miami to try and create matchups for transfer quarterback D’Eriq King. The stated plan by Sonny Dykes is to lean on Shane Buechele in a way that hasn’t happened before. He hired Lincoln Riley’s younger brother Garrett, who’s talked of simplifying the offense and giving Buechele more options.

There’s a lot of ways the Mustangs could approach this. They have a big transfer tight end in Kedrick James from Alabama (6-5, 263) that could replace Becker as the fullback, or they could move towards more 11 personnel with Granson sliding inside. He’s a reasonably solid blocker for his size but it’d be a more pass-oriented approach and would clear out more space on the perimeter for a rising receiving corps that may prove to be quite good.

Reggie Roberson is the new main guy, he played eight games in 2019 and caught 43 balls for 803 yards and six touchdowns, including an eight catch, 250 yard, three touchdown day against Temple. His specialty is on deep routes, running posts and double moves outside. The Mustangs also return sophomore Rashee Rice, who had 25 catches for 403 yards and a score last year. Rice was impressive outside, while he’s “only” 6-1, 189 he fights for the ball and can do work after the catch. Granson can work inside and try to command safety attention for the benefit of either.

The Mustangs also have a now highly experienced offensive line anchored on the left side by 2019 All-AAC second team tackle Jaylon Jones. He’s a 6-3, 312 pound junior with good quickness and reach. When protected with play-action and occasional help, he was able to keep Buechele clean.

The interesting question for the Mustangs in 2020 though is how they set up the deep shots that Buechele has always been able to throw with accuracy when well protected. In the past he’s thrived when working off play-action that sucks in safety help and protects his two chief limitations, his lack of size at 6-1, 207 and his lack of feel for pressure. Can they build a run game around tight end transfers and with sophomore running back T.J. McDaniel? Or do they ask Buechele and the line to hold up in five/six man protections while executing schemes like this shallow cross combination they mixed in for 2019?

SMU shallow cross.jpg

This is a popular way to run the scheme now, with the boundary slot or tight end running a fade that creates a rub for the shallow cross. They mostly seemed to run this as a predetermined way to clear out space for the shallow rather than as much of a progression read. They could mix in multiple combinations to the twin side, such as a smash combination (corner route and quick out) rather than the dig-post.

The gist is that instead of using the run game to occupy attention underneath, the offense uses routes underneath. Doing so is more explosive than the run game and can successfully create space deep for the explosive vertical routes that Buechele and Roberson are so effective in. However it requires a lot of repetition from the receivers on route adjustments, some good pass protection without play-action, and a quarterback that can help set protections and read defenses before and after the snap.

Will 2020 be a year where SMU emphasizes Shane Buechele in a pro-style passing game? Or will they retool their run game to set him up with play-action? An AAC title and the re-emergence of the Pony Express hang in the balance.
 

samwise

Member
Jul 17, 2017
31
74
0
Nothing would please me more than seeing Buechele has a great year. Wasn't he on his official visit weekend (already committed) when we experienced the debacle of having to fly our President and AD to Oklahoma to secure the hire of Gilbert? I don't know if Buechele was naive or loyal, but he stuck it out anyway and still came to UT. He doesn't have pro-potential does he?
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,302
63,677
0
Ypsilanti, MI
Nothing would please me more than seeing Buechele has a great year. Wasn't he on his official visit weekend (already committed) when we experienced the debacle of having to fly our President and AD to Oklahoma to secure the hire of Gilbert? I don't know if Buechele was naive or loyal, but he stuck it out anyway and still came to UT. He doesn't have pro-potential does he?
He hasn’t shown pro potential so far. Throws an amazing ball but he’s not shown pocket feel or durability. Senior year could elevate him, but I think the lack of size will hurt him.
 
  • Like
Reactions: BillyBobLonghorns

bowman93

Member Who Talks
Jun 25, 2017
578
1,667
0
Austin
Great article, Ian. My concerns about them going more pass heavy mirror yours- Shane being able to physically hold up when he has a free rusher barreling down on him over the course of a season (it has to be said though, for all the hits he’s taken, he’s never played scared or sped up his clock).
It’s always been clear that his pre snap reads are great, which is why I think he excels so much in a RPO heavy system that allows him to occasionally showcase his touch on posts and 9 routes when he has a clean pocket off of play action.
hopefully the increased emphasis on routes over the middle hold up the defense’s second level defenders enough for Shane to have enough time to operate and hit those deep shots. Wish him all the best, and I’m really interested to see how the younger Riley maximizes the talent he has at his disposal.

On an unrelated note, the fact that we don’t take a kid like Granson every year when we always end up having 2-3 spots left in the class blow my mind. Sure he doesn’t have NFL measurables, but guys with that much versatility are so valuable because they really unlock your offense if you’re mainly staying in a single personnel package. Watching what the older Riley will draw up for Michael Henderson (Who I think is similar to a rich man’s Granson) over the next 4 years is going to awful to experience, hah.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ian Boyd

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,302
63,677
0
Ypsilanti, MI
(it has to be said though, for all the hits he’s taken, he’s never played scared or sped up his clock).
I dunno about that one, I think he does get rattled and sped up.
It’s always been clear that his pre snap reads are great, which is why I think he excels so much in a RPO heavy system that allows him to occasionally showcase his touch on posts and 9 routes when he has a clean pocket off of play action.
Definitely, he throws some amazing balls when he has time and the clear read.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bowman93

dmatx

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Sep 26, 2012
1,271
1,982
0
South Austin, TX
I dunno about that one, I think he does get rattled and sped up.
I was gonna say... I have a lot of memories of him self-sacking and bailing early in 2016 but I also still drank then so my memory might be a little fuzzy. That said, with that line protecting him - I can't really fault him for it too much.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ian Boyd

josephcook

Inside Texas Writer
Staff member
Feb 11, 2013
24,136
86,464
0
Austin
Lashlee definitely has Buechele to credit some for his career resurgence. He went to UCONN right? Was he pushed out of Auburn? Then he joins with a stable scheme (Dykes Raid) with a great P5 to G5 transfer (Buechele).

I’ll bet on Buechele having a better year than Lashlee/King. Shane might be the first in a line of transfers who head back home to Dallas. The G5s in Big Metros have A distinct advantage with that sort of thing, Especially one in a hotbed like Dallas.
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,302
63,677
0
Ypsilanti, MI
Lashlee definitely has Buechele to credit some for his career resurgence. He went to UCONN right? Was he pushed out of Auburn? Then he joins with a stable scheme (Dykes Raid) with a great P5 to G5 transfer (Buechele).

I’ll bet on Buechele having a better year than Lashlee/King. Shane might be the first in a line of transfers who head back home to Dallas. The G5s in Big Metros have A distinct advantage with that sort of thing, Especially one in a hotbed like Dallas.
Shane was great, but I would counter that Shane has Xavier Jones and James Proche to thank in then. Lashlee used what proved to be a very good roster (thanks Chad Morris!) to get the best from Buechele.
 

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
6,193
18,110
0
Shane was great, but I would counter that Shane has Xavier Jones and James Proche to thank in then. Lashlee used what proved to be a very good roster (thanks Chad Morris!) to get the best from Buechele.
I liked Shane when he was here, but I think you've nailed the limitations he has. He can do damage when he's in a favorable situation, but building around a pro style passing game requires a QB who can make some stuff happen when the call is against him. It's just the nature of the beast when you're throwing it 40 times a game instead of picking your shots with Play action and RPOs and letting the running game do more heavy lifting. I don't think he has that higher level.

Do wish Sam had his deep ball though...
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ian Boyd

Justin Wells

Inside Texas Web Editor
Staff member
Jul 22, 2013
67,529
249,671
0
Shane was great, but I would counter that Shane has Xavier Jones and James Proche to thank in then. Lashlee used what proved to be a very good roster (thanks Chad Morris!) to get the best from Buechele.
Roberson will also shine. Or will it be Buechele to thank then...