AUSTIN, Texas -- When Texas trailed Oregon State 20-10 at halftime of the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 29, co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt ditched their game plan and went with an offense the Longhorns had been keeping in their back pocket all season.
After running only 27 plays and gaining just three first downs in the first half, the Longhorns went to a no-huddle, up-tempo offense in the second half and came from behind for a 31-27 victory over the No. 13 Beavers. Texas ran 38 plays and picked up nine first downs in the second half, while running its one-minute offense out of a no-huddle, fast-paced attack.
Texas coach Mack Brown hopes the final 30 minutes of the 2012 season are what propels Texas back among the country's elite teams in 2013.
"It was invaluable," Brown said. "It was really, really important to send the message to our fans, our kids and our recruits that we're still fighting."
One of the country's traditional heavyweights, the Longhorns will be fighting more like a welterweight this coming season. As Brown prepares to enter his 16th season at Texas, he is fully committed to one of the most dramatic changes of his tenure. UT will run a fast-paced, no-huddle offense this coming season, much like Big 12 opponents Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Brown believes the change is Texas' best chance at surviving a 12-round fight in the Big 12.
"We think we're at the perfect spot now because we think we're tougher," Brown said. "It's helped our defense toughen up, we know we can run the ball again and we're ready to break out the passing game."
Brown said Texas isn't going to a no-huddle offense simply to score more points. He also believes the change will help UT's defense prepare to face the offensive juggernauts of the Big 12. If the Longhorns face a fast-paced offense in practice every day, Brown is confident they'll be more conditioned -- mentally and physically -- to play teams like the Mountaineers and Sooners on a weekly basis.
"What we found last year was it was such a disadvantage to our defense," Brown said. "This league is really good at tempo offense and there are really fast players. Nobody is huddling and nobody is substituting, so your defense gets stuck out there and they're snapping the ball every 15 seconds. Your defensive coordinator can't call defenses because there's not enough time for your players to look over at him. Your big guys get tired because they can't get off the field."
After showing tremendous strides in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's first season in 2011, the Longhorns struggled mightily on defense last season, ranking 73rd in scoring defense (29.2 points per game). Most of the damage came during a five-game stretch when UT played Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor in consecutive games. The Longhorns allowed 228 points while going 3-2 during that stretch. Brown said his defense wasn't experienced enough or deep enough to play spread offenses in five straight games.
"If you go back and look at our league last year, there were a lot of defensive players with hands on their hips or they're down on one knee and they're not prepared when the ball is snapped because they're so tired," Brown said. "Our defense is already better because they're seeing this scheme every day. If the offense slows down, it seems like it's taking forever to get another play if they huddle up. You have to be in great shape because you have to be ready to practice. If you're big and slow or not in great shape, you're exposed because it never slows down."
Brown insists the dramatic changes aren't a last-ditch attempt to resuscitate a program that has slipped recently. Since losing to Alabama 37-21 in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2010, the Longhorns have gone 22-16 (11-15 in the Big 12) during the past three seasons. They've gotten better in each of the past two seasons after hitting rock bottom with a 5-7 record in 2010.
"We think we needed the past two years to get back to where we are," Brown said.
Applewhite, who took over the play calling after co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left on Dec. 12 to become Arkansas State's coach, said the Longhorns will be versatile enough to run their offense as fast as a team like Oregon, while still being equipped to line up and grind out the clock when needed. At a practice last week, UT was snapping the ball about every 15 seconds, with Applewhite constantly barking for the Longhorns to play even faster. Applewhite said he wants UT's offense to average about 83 to 90 snaps per game this coming season.
The fans are going to love watching this offense. I'm excited. I think we're back to where we're ready to compete again at the highest level and we have a chance every week.
”-- Texas coach Mack Brown
"It's just speeding the tempo up," Applewhite said. "It's more at-bats, more shots taken and more points made. It's a very simple approach. It's 10 or 15 more snaps a game that the defense has to stay out there and defend you. It's 10 or 15 more opportunities to score."
Last season, UT's offense ran 68.5 plays per game, second fewest among Big 12 teams. Only Big 12 champion Kansas State ran fewer plays with 64.6 offensive snaps per game. Baylor led the league with 82.4 plays per game, and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia each averaged more than 75 snaps per game.
"It's going to confuse your opponents and it's going to fatigue your opponents," Applewhite said. "We're able to keep our best players on the field and not substitute. Ultimately, it's about running your offense faster and executing it."
Applewhite also hopes the change in philosophy will make quarterback David Ash more comfortable on the field. Ash, who started 18 games during the past two seasons, ran a no-huddle spread offense at Belton (Texas) High School.
"He's done well," Applewhite said. "He's done well in this system. He's a guy that likes to operate at the line of scrimmage, and I think he enjoys the no-huddle. There's less time between snaps so I think sometimes he gets in a rhythm and gets caught in the drive. There are not as many breaks between plays, and I think you can see him fall into a groove during a drive and hit some things in succession."
Regardless of what kind of offense the Longhorns are running, it still comes down to them executing plays and avoiding turnovers. Last season, Texas lost 16 turnovers, 10 fewer than the previous season.
"It's a lot more comfortable," Ash said. "This is what I've done for most of my football career. It's still football, but it's the kind of style I like to play and guys have fun running it. Whenever you have the kind of skill guys we have, guys enjoy running this system and we can be pretty good."
According to Brown, Ash threw only one interception during spring practice, until throwing two in the Longhorns' spring game on Saturday night.
"If you look at our games last year, the games we won we took care of the ball and the games we lost we didn't," Ash said. "They say most stats are for losers, but there are a couple of stats that don't lie -- turnovers and the score. We're trying to concentrate on scoring points and taking care of the ball."
Applewhite believes the change in philosophy will also allow Ash to take more ownership of the team. When Colt McCoy was a redshirt freshman in 2006, Brown elected to use a no-huddle offense so more experienced teammates wouldn't yell at him in the huddle.
"I think it's forced [Ash] to get out of his shell a little bit," Applewhite said. "You've got to communicate quite a bit when you're not in a huddle. You've got to communicate and make sure everybody's lined up properly. I think it's really helped him become more vocal, getting in and out of plays and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Ten guys are spread out, and he's having to talk across the field."
By going to a no-huddle offense, the Longhorns won't have as many personnel groups and won't call as many different plays. Their best players -- receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley and tailbacks Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown -- will rarely leave the field.
"We haven't changed the plays, but we've changed our formation groupings because we were substituting so much that the defense had time to match [personnel]," Brown said. "We're trying to quit substituting so much, and really only substitute when the clock stops. We're still running the same plays, but we've cut down the number of plays we're going to use."
Texas' transformation has been easier because of its success in the second half of the Alamo Bowl. Instead of talking about it, the coaching staff can point to tangible results.
"When you can see and believe it, it's a hell of a lot better than telling them, 'Hey, trust me on this, guys,'" Applewhite said.
Now it's up to the Longhorns to run the offense for 60 minutes every game.
"The fans are going to love watching this offense," Brown said. "I'm excited. I think we're back to where we're ready to compete again at the highest level and we have a chance every week."