Head coach Charlie Strong has his work cut out for him. The Longhorns offense needs fixing, and it needs it badly.
When the Longhorns weren’t turning the ball over, they were simply unable to sustain drives — ranking 89th in plays-per-game and 110th in third-down conversion percentage last season. While injuries and dismissals played a role in their offensive woes, predictable play calling and a vanilla offensive scheme didn’t do sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and company any favors.
“We have to tweak [the offense],” Strong said after National Signing Day. “We know this. I look at five games last season where we scored 20 points or less. We know we have to get better.”
The games that Strong mentioned were cringe-worthy. Among them were losses to Kansas State, TCU and Arkansas, in which describing the offense as looking lost is an understatement. It was clear the personnel and the scheme did not add up to a successful offense.
Strong knows that Texas’ offensive struggles last season were unacceptable, and he’s emphasized adjusting the scheme to fit his players and new recruits. In this case, Texas’ recruits mostly come from Texas, which is notorious for a high-tempo, high-scoring spread offenses at the high-school level.
“I look at this state ship, and I would say probably 98 percent of this state is a spread offense,” Strong said Monday at the first spring press conference. “So, when we bring players into our program, let’s not change them.”
Perhaps the best indication of the coming system tweaks is the hiring of Jay Norvell, former Oklahoma wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator, as Texas’ new wide receivers coach.
Norvell was partly hired for his experience in coaching spread offenses, and his impressive track record at Oklahoma is encouraging. In five of his seven years with the Sooners, Oklahoma’s offense ranked in the top 30 in scoring and plays-per-game.
In simpler terms, Norvell’s spread stayed on the field, gained first downs and scored points. Texas needs all of the above.
The new offense’s biggest beneficiaries may be the quarterbacks. Both Swoopes and redshirted freshman Jerrod Heard were top dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school, and spreading the offense will give them a chance to prove themselves as runners and throwers in spring play.
Even incoming freshman quarterback Kai Locksley — who won’t be in practices until the summer but is still a candidate for the starting job, according to Strong — excelled in a spread offense in high school.
“They are good enough where they can throw the ball, good enough where, if you had to pull it down, they could run the football,” Strong said. “But, you have to take advantage of what you have.”
If Strong and his staff can get consistent play from their quarterbacks through a scheme change, it would be an enormous step toward fixing the offense.
Regardless of who is under center, Texas has no more excuses for poor offense. Strong and his staff need to find a way to get the most out of their players, and, whether it’s a complete offensive overhaul or some slight scheme changes, Texas’ offense will look different next year.
If Strong and his staff can deliver on their promise to improve the offense, it will be a big step in bringing the Longhorns back into national relevance.