Sunday, April 3, 2011
Question marks abound after Texas' spring
By David Ubben
AUSTIN, Texas -- The offense is as advertised. New Texas coordinator Bryan Harsin's fingerprints were all over the Longhorns' offense in Sunday's spring game.
They showcased constant pre-snap motions to help read and confuse defenses -- a facet not seen at Texas at any point before Harsin replaced Greg Davis.
There was plenty of trickery, which, for better or worse, became a signature of Boise State's program during its rise to national prominence over the past five seasons with Harsin controlling the offense. A scoring drive led by Garrett Gilbert was highlighted by a throw back to Gilbert from running back Fozzy Whittaker and a cute reverse to receiver Mike Davis for an 11-yard gain.
But just as Harsin was all over the Longhorns' offense on Sunday, the same was true of the players who struggled last season. Texas staggered to a 5-7 season with the nation's No. 88 scoring offense trying to compete in a decidedly offensive league.
Plenty of that pre-snap motion was followed by inaccurate passes from three quarterbacks without a clear starter among them. Running backs didn't get to the second level of the defense very often and the winning team (Texas, who beat the Longhorns 26-7, whatever that means) averaged just 3.6 yards a carry, though Whittaker and Cody Johnson had 63 yards on 10 carries.
"I thought the one offensive line was good, our second one has not had a chance all spring," coach Mack Brown said.
The losing team's top two running backs had one yard on nine carries.
The longest run of the day for either team was 15 yards. The longest pass before yards after catch on the day? A 24-yard jump ball that got caught in the wind before Darius White came back on a defensive back to catch it. Gilbert's second-quarter scoring drive, to his credit, came after an ugly interception into double coverage on an under-thrown flag route.
Blustery winds and just eight healthy offensive linemen are fair excuses for both, but no one's denying that there's plenty of work to do. If the Longhorns are going to avoid another season that ends in November they'll have to improve their offense.
"To me, we go in to the season with a lot of question marks, a lot of things we've got to fix," Brown said. "We've got to fix the turnover ratio, we've got to get better and score points and get field position advantage in the kicking game. We've got to run the ball better and help our quarterbacks until one of them gets on his feet, but all of those things are fixable."
Not easily fixable, but fixable. And no place is that more evident than at quarterback.
"It's great to be undefeated," Brown quipped as he sat down at the microphone after the game.
He's right. And Texas' status as an undefeated team won't reach far into September if it can't find its quarterback, the biggest question mark on Brown's team.
All four quarterbacks -- last season's starter, Gilbert, along with McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash, received equal snaps throughout the spring.
McCoy was the most impressive of the group on Sunday. His solid 124 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-11 passing was highlighted by an opening drive with walk-on linemen and capped by a touchdown pass to walk-on receiver Patrick McNamara. All against the No. 1 defense. He also had the longest passing play of the day, a post pattern underneath the safeties for a 30-yard gain to Davis, the team's best receiver.
But the admitted uncertainty was perhaps only more so after Sunday.
"We're not going to evaluate them until the fall. We're really not. We're not going to walk out of here tomorrow morning and say, 'This guy is going to be the starting quarterback,'" Brown said. "You think we are. We're not.
"Because we really don't think anybody is ready to take over at this point."
Harsin's complex offense ("It's a bear," Brown said) is part of the reason why. Though Texas won't be practicing again until August, that doesn't mean the quarterback competition is dead until then. The starter will get his edge, Harsin says, in the film room, in late nights up studying the playbook.
"Bryan will expect them to know the offense when they get back, because he used very little today and there was still a little confusion with formations," Brown said.
It'll take what Brown called a great "mental summer" to earn an edge, and an even more impressive camp before that question mark at quarterback looks anything like a period. Colt McCoy made it an exclamation point for four seasons, and was on hand for Sunday's game, broadcast nationally on ESPN. Texas' success got them their own television network. The officially christened "Longhorn Network" unveiled its name and logo before the game and advertised during the match. But no amount of past success or money will get McCoy back in a Texas uniform, even if the NFL lockout extends into the fall. The change that was needed was on display Sunday.
"The big key for us right now is what do we do from this point until we come back in fall camp," Harsin said. "And you can grow leaps and bounds as a quarterback, and really every position, by studying and having a better understanding of what we're trying to get done. That will be the focus of this film session with these guys: Where do we go from here?"