AUSTIN — Last season, a sputtering Texas offense kept the speed limit at 65. Now, Sterlin Gilbert’s souped-up scheme expects to clock 100 MPH each time he takes the ‘ol baby out for a spin.
One hundred plays: that’s how many snaps Gilbert wants to run each game, players said Tuesday. And that’s putting the pedal to the metal considering Texas averaged 65 plays per outing in 2015.
“We’re really picking up the tempo,” LT Connor Williams said. “We’re going a lot faster. We’re getting the plays in quicker, and we’re moving the ball.”
One-hundred plays per game may seem like a leisurely Sunday drive compared to the fast-and-furious pace of Longhorn practices this spring.
“We run about 150 plays in practice,” Williams told me, “and that’s the mentality going into the game.”
The caveat is that Texas must improve considerably on third-down conversions – its 35.3 percentage was tied for 107th in the nation last season – or else the up-tempo spread will go nowhere fast. At the very least, Gilbert’s need for speed has been a shot in the arm, TE Andrew Beck said.
“It’s given us new life,” Beck said. “We’re having fun. We were supposed to go 100 plays (in last Saturday’s scrimmage), but nobody noticed that we went over that. We went over 100 plays. Nobody complained. We’re just having fun. We could have kept going forever. It’s just something fun to do.”
Part of the fun is watching the big uglies up-front run fast, Beck concedes. But that’s just the tip of it. When you add another 35 plays to the game-plan, it clearly gets more guys involved. And that’s fun for guys like Beck who reports that the role of the TE has expanded from lead-blocking in jumbo packages to splitting out and grabbing some catches. It’s also fine to watch the big guys up front having to run fast, he said.
“Going fast, you get to see guys making more plays,” Beck said, who singled-out running backs. “They’re tuning over people which is really fun to watch.”
‘Fun’ is a relative term if you’re on the other side of the ball.
“There have been days when I’ve found myself gassed,” said DT Poona Ford, the anchor of a thinned D-line. “I’m just trying to worry about getting lined-up.”
Understandably, fans would temper their expectations given that we’ve heard this all before. One game into the 2015 season, of course, co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline were demoted after the much-hyped, ‘up-tempo’ scheme never got out of the starting blocks. Texas finished the season ranked No. 100 in total offense after managing just 371 ypg.
“I know we were in this position last year saying we were going to be fast,” Beck conceded, “and then it wasn’t as quick as we wanted.”
Oh, but this year’s offense is “a whole lot different than last year,” Ford said. But, other than tempo, is there an appreciable difference in scheme?
“That’s really about it,” Ford told me. “The tempo is the difference.”
And if Texas can find a QB to rev the engine, it could make all the difference in the world.