Inside the Gameplan: Hand’s 2019 building blocks

Zach Shackelford (Will Gallagher/IT)
Zach Shackelford (Will Gallagher/IT)

A offense’s floor is set by the offensive line.

They’re the building blocks of the entire unit and approach. Whether they can credibly cover up disruptive DL or allow the QB to consistently finish a dropback progression determines what’s possible for a unit to even attempt. There was a time when there’d be an annual fan/media flip-out when Texas would fail to secure the expected 5-10 sacks against a team like UNT or Rice in an early season contest. The reason would be that Rice or UNT, knowing that their OL couldn’t hope to block Texas’ DL in pass protection, would only run the ball, throw screens, or use play-action and quick hitters in the passing game often from a moving QB.

Commentators saw a DL failing to get home to the QB but the reality was that Texas’ opponent had confined itself into a box on offense in an attempt to avoid disaster. Beyond those sorts of schematic decisions, there’s a dozen other ways that an OL can set the floor for an offense. How effective are the double teams? Can anyone up front be counted on to cover up and beat a DL without a long double? Are there blocking schemes that go out the window if an opponent has a certain type of DL? Can either tackle hold up consistently against a good DE without help in protection?

Another floor-setting matter that typically goes a long way in determining the quality of an OL is the experience level of the unit. Commentators often get excited about recruiting levels but there’s no other position where experience matters more. The OL needs to know how to pick up stunts and slants, the best way to block plays and fronts together, and as many tricks as they can absorb for how to leverage superior size and strength to beat out superior athleticism.

The 2019 Oklahoma OL should be a good testing ground for this dimension of line play. They had four starters from the 2018 unit drafted and consequently lose 141 combined starts. Center and RS sophomore Creed Humphrey will be their only OL with starting experience next season, leading a big, talented, but exceptionally green unit.

Much like the Sooners, Texas’ offensive design is built from a starting point of being able to bully teams for consistent gains in the trenches if they don’t commit numbers to stop the run. The situation in terms of experience in Austin is better than in Norman but there are really only two well established stalwarts for veteran coach Herb Hand to build around.

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History major, football theorist.