Time of the essence for up-tempo Texas

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
10:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The speed and hustle are unmistakable, but so is the noise.

Texas’ first-string offense moved down the indoor practice field in choreographed chaos, players and coaches alike showered the affair in shouts.

David Ash
Max Olson/ESPNDavid Ash and Texas' offense will be moving at a frenetic pace this fall.
Snap. Play. Go, go, go. Again. Snap. The frenetic pace was met with screams for more urgency. Assistants jumped up and down and backslapped players after big gains, then scrambled back to work.

Whenever 11 lined up against 11 on Monday at Texas’ first fall practice, the buzz inside the practice bubble instantly amplified. The Longhorns put the next phase of their up-tempo offense installation on display, and though this is still very much a work in progress, the final product is shaping up to be a fun one.

There’s no doubt new play-caller Major Applewhite provides some of the jolt to the system. His teaching style is demonstrative in nature, and he doesn’t hesitate to dole out tough talk. Quarterback David Ash got a taste of that Monday.

“He’s extremely demanding, which is what any player wants out of a coach,” Ash said. “He ripped me today already. I’m looking forward to a few more rippings. It’s going to be good, and I’m going to learn from it. Usually when he rips me, I don’t ever do that again. That’s how you have to be if you want to be the best.”

As coach Mack Brown had vowed all summer long, the plays Ash must execute are not drastically different. This is still philosophically a pro-style attack dedicated to a power run game, only now it’s cloaked in and complemented by a three-and four-wide-receiver-spread-look.

The challenge is knowing how to hit the pedal just right to close in on Brown’s admittedly lofty goal of 84 plays per game. Texas will continue tinkering with the all-too-important variable of any hurry-up offense: Time wasted in between plays.

In the final 11-on-11 work of Monday’s practice, the Longhorn offense spared as little time as it could on the moments between the end of one play and the start of a second. On this day, the next snap typically came 12 to 15 seconds after the last.

It’s a starting point, and Ash anticipates the pace will get ratcheted up plenty in the coming weeks.

“Right now, I think we’re kind of polishing things,” Ash said. “Today we weren’t going as fast. I think you’ll see us steadily get faster throughout camp. You don’t want to start off so fast that you can’t get no faster. You want to build to that speed and stay there.”

Texas is trying to run in the fast lane alongside offenses like those featured at Baylor (82.5 plays per game in 2012) and Oregon (81.4). Will achieving that level of execution require rethinking how the scheme is practiced on a daily basis?

Under former coach Chip Kelly, Oregon reportedly ran between 100 and 150 plays during its two-hour practices, sometimes knocking out 30 plays in 10 minutes or less. Texas’ offense likely won’t be held to those absurd standards, at least not this fall.

There is still plenty of learning and adapting ahead. To senior offensive lineman Mason Walters, though, the goal is clear.

“I think it’s no missed assignments,” he said. “It’s being able to get on the field in four seconds, hear the number of the play and run it with great execution.”

Four seconds? That’s about as ambitious as it gets for an offense that averaged 2:50 in time of possession on its touchdown drives in 2012, and scored in a minute or less on only seven of those 58 drives.

Those numbers have the potential to improve dramatically this season, so long as Applewhite keeps pushing the pace. This was only day one, but for the Longhorns, time is now most definitely of the essence.

“As fast as he’s blowing the whistle, he’s never going to slow us down,” Walters said. “He hasn’t yet.”

Max Olson | email

Texas/Big 12 reporter

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