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Messin’ with Texas: First Look at the Longhorn Offense

West Virginia v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

On Tuesday evening 11-2 Georgia will take to the field in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Big XII runner up #15 Texas.

The Longhorns are of course led by head coach Tom Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator and Houston head coach who some UGA fans actually wanted to replace Mark Richt. In much the way that Kirby Smart made his name coordinating top defenses at Alabama, Herman rose to prominence by taking Urban Meyer’s read option attack to another level for the Buckeyes, then tweaking it slightly to put up a ton of points in his first head coaching job.

We’ll have a more in-depth analysis with one of the top X and O analysts on the Longhorn beat on Monday. But first let’s talk about some of the key stats and names to know when the Longhorns have the ball.

Statistically Speaking

Texas has put up some points this season. But not that many. The Burnt Orange are fifth in the Big XII in scoring offense at 31.3 points per game, well behind Georgia’s 39.2 point average. What damage the Austinites have done they’ve often accomplished through the air, as they’re averaging only 151 yards per game on the ground (8th even in the pass first Big XII). By contrast the Longhorns are averaging 269 yards per game through the air.

That being said, as one would expect from a group that sprung from the Urban Myer coaching tree, Coach Herman and company want to run the ball. They’ve actually run it on 53.7% of offensive snaps. All told Texas ranks 28th in offensive S&P+ (Georgia, much to the chagrin of Jim Chaney detractors, is 3rd).

They’re 41st in offensive success rate (defined generally as the percentage of 1st down plays that net 50% of the necessary yardage for a first down, second down plays that net 70% of required first down yardage, and third/fourth down plays that actually gain a first down). That’s not terrible, but again, Georgia is 3rd nationally behind only Alabama and Oklahoma. Where the Longhorns’ offense really falls flat statistically speaking is IsoPPP+. What is IsoPPP+ you ask? According to Football Outsiders:

An explosiveness measure derived from determining the equivalent point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game. IsoPPP looks at only the per-play value of a team’s successful plays (as defined by the Success Rate definition above); its goal is to separate the explosiveness component from the efficiency component altogether.

Put another way, a team can be efficient, but it’s hard to just stack 15 play drives on top of each other. At some point a good defense will get a stop. To score, especially on a good, deep defense, you’re probably going to need to rip off some big plays among those merely “successful” plays. Enter IsoPPP+.

The Longhorns rank 110th nationally in this measure of overall offensive explosiveness. Some of that I think is owing to an offensive line that has been a little inconsistent. The issue is not a lack of playmakers, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

Names To Know

Offensively things start with Longhorn QB Sam Ehlinger. The sophomore has completed 256 of 398 passes (64.3%) for 3127 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions (a 148.54 QBR). That rating puts Ehlinger squarely in fourth in the Big XII behind some pretty big names: Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, West Virginia’s Will Grier, and Oklahoma Heisman winner Kyler Murray.

Ehlinger isn’t a particularly polished pocket passer. But in my assessment he played four of his best games of 2018 in the second half of the season, including the Big XII Championship Game, in which he threw for nearly 350 yards on a helpless Oklahoma defense.

Ehlinger is also, true to the Meyer system, a threat to run the ball, having churned out 418 rushing yards as well. Oddly, Ehlinger also had 4 receptions for 43 yards, making him the Longhorns’ 9th leading receiver. Keep an eye on that Tuesday night.

Ehlinger doesn’t lack for targets in the passing game, including leading receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Belying his name, Humphrey is actually a solid 6’4, 225 pound junior with strong hands and excellent body control. On the season he ‘s talled 79 catches for 1109 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Humphrey will line up both in the slot and outside, and even in tight almost as an H-back. Humphrey is a red zone threat because of his size and physicality, and worries me a little one-on-one with Georgia’s young corners. If there’s a reason I’d really like to have Deandre Baker in uniform, Humphrey would be it.

Another problem comes in the form of Humphrey’s fellow junior receiver Collin Johnson. The 6’6, 220 pound Johnson is almost a hybrid tight end, not as smooth a route runner as Humphrey, but a serious matchup problem downfield. The Longhorns have made good use of him both going up for the back shoulder throws that Mike Bobo used to love throwing to A.J. Greene and on sneaky seam routes where he’s a big target. Johnson is second only to Humphreys with 65 receptions for 945 yards and 7 touchdowns.

The Bulldog defense will face an additional challenge from sophomore receiver Devin Duvernay. In contrast to apparent basketball players Humphries and Johnson Duvernay is a stocky 5’11, 210 pounder with excellent speed and cutting ability. Duvernay’s 39 receptions for 524 yards are a good indication of what kind of weapon he is. The Longhorns like to try to get Duvernay free downfield in much the way we’ve seen Jim Chaney try to use Mecole Hardman’s acceleration.

At the tight end spot Texas is led by senior Andrew Beck. The 6’3, 255 pounder from Tampa really lines up more frequently as an H-back than an inline tight end, but got free for 27 receptions and 276 yards on the season. One thing to keep an eye on with Beck is his blocking. It’s not great, as he tends to get overpowered by bigger defensive linemen. I expect Jonathan Ledbetter and Malik Herring to give him a ton of trouble, but I also expect Texas OC Tim Beck (no relation) to try to release Beck into space to take advantage if Georgia gets overly aggressive on the edge.

On the ground Texas uses two primary tailbacks. Cal transfer Tre Watson leads the team with 695 yards on 167 carries (4.2 ypc). The shifty 5’11, 195 pound senior is also a threat in the receiving game, where Beck likes to swing him outside to get him into space.

The Longhorns will also rely on freshman Keaontay Ingram. The 6’0, 205 pound Carthage native has been hot and cold this year, in part due to some issues with his offensive line. But he’s averaged 5.14 yards per carry (683 total) on 133 attempts. Ingram is willing to run inside, but also has solid acceleration, as he showed on this run during Texas’s first matchup with Oklahoma.

Again, Ehlinger will himself be a big part of the Burnt Orange rushing attack. Look for Kirby Smart’s defense to try to make him pay every time he decides to take off with the ball.

We’ll be back later with a look at the Longhorn defense. Until then . . .

Go ‘Dawgs!!!