Longhorns' offense in good hands with Gilbert

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Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said Texas is focusing on speeding up its tempo as the Longhorns prepare to hit the road for the first time this season to face California.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

It would be hard to blame Texas fans for forgetting what a productive offense looks like.

The Longhorns’ offense often made the program’s faithful cringe over the past two years, finishing No. 9 and No. 8 in the ten-team Big 12 in scoring, respectively.

Strong demoted former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson early last year and fired interim play-caller Jay Norvell at season’s end. And after an extensive search, Strong finally found his offensive coordinator: the ultra-calm and collected Sterlin Gilbert.

“I think that’s just who I am,” Gilbert said. “Never too high, never too low, always in the middle. That’s something I was taught at a young age.”

Strong and the team’s players are giddy when talking about their offensive coordinator. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele said he loves playing for Gilbert, while junior running back D’Onta Foreman said playing in the offense is “a lot of fun.”

And after two weeks, it’s easy to see why.

Gilbert’s offense exploded onto the scene against then-No. 10 Notre Dame in week one, putting up 50 points and over 500 total yards. It then nearly matched the effort in week two with 41 points and 416 yards against UTEP, even with four offensive linemen and junior running back D’Onta Foreman resting.

The consecutive scoring barrages and balanced approach — Texas rushes and passes for over 200 yards per game — are especially refreshing for both Texas players and Longhorn faithful after the team finished last in the Big 12 in passing last season.

“Sterlin and the offensive staff [are] doing an unbelievable job,” Strong said. “If you want to load the box, we’re going to throw it over your head. If you’re going to back off, we’re going to run it.”

Buechele praised Gilbert’s offense for its speed and straightforwardness. He said the scheme reminds him of his high school offense, making it more quarterback friendly.

“It’s easy to execute,” Buechele. “And when you execute, you’re bound to do great things. With the tempo, it makes things simple, and it’s just a great offense overall.”

The offense’s pace and simplicity are noticeable. Senior safety Dylan Haines said this is the first year he’s seen the offense actually move quickly in practice after Watson hyped an up-tempo style last spring. But the team failed to meet those expectations, as Texas finished No. 110 in plays per game.

Now, Texas makes a point to get plays off quickly, ranking No. 28 in plays per game through two weeks. And they’ve shown no signs of slowing down. 

“When you go fast it makes everyone … just lock into the offense,” Buechele said. “And it makes the defense do simpler things.” 

Gilbert also excels at getting his playmakers involved, unlike the recent Texas offenses that failed to utilize talented receivers like Jaxon Shipley and Daje Johnson. Five different receivers have caught touchdowns this season.

“What we talked about is just getting the ball in your playmakers’ hands,” Strong said. “We can win outside. When we throw those vertical routes, the receivers are running by the defensive backs.”

The Longhorns appear to be in good hands with Gilbert. He must adjust as defenses throw different looks at him over the course of the season. 

Still, with a humble attitude and track record of high-scoring offenses  — he coached Tulsa to the No. 21 scoring offense as its offensive coordinator last year — Gilbert will be ready.

“We’re extremely excited and motivated about what’s happened over the last two weeks,” Gilbert said. “[But] we know we’ve got a lot of room for improvement. We’re by no means satisfied.”