Harsin comfortable in Year 2

Texas playcaller finding offensive consistency, putting players in right spot

Updated: October 10, 2012, 3:00 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Bryan Harsin has been measured differently.

That's how it is with the coach who calls the plays. Mack Brown likes to think that is a trait exclusive to Texas. It's not. The stick is shorter everywhere.

But at Texas, in the wake of 5-7, so too is the fuse. And after 55-17 -- which was all too similar to 65-13 and 63-14 -- Harsin had to find a way to cut the lighted wick.

[+] EnlargeBryan Harsin
John Albright/Icon SMITexas co-offensive coordinator and playcaller Bryan Harsin has the offense performing where he wants it to be.
Rotating quarterbacks (three players took a snap from center in the first 12 plays against Oklahoma) and long-developing misdirections (Miles Onyegbule was thrown for a 16-yard loss in the game's third series) would not work against the Sooners' speed and discipline in Texas' 2011 loss.

This wasn't Boise State versus Idaho. This was the Big 12. And Harsin had just been welcomed to it with the worst loss of his career as an offensive playcaller. Texas scored one offensive touchdown in garbage time.

"After every game I go back and [ask], 'What did you learn?'" said the Longhorns' co-offensive coordinator. "What did you learn from it? There's always something."

In this case Harsin learned who he was at his core as an offensive coach and what he needed to continue to do. Sure, there was the perception that he valued the trick play more than the off-tackle run. That was how most fans had wrapped their heads around Boise State's ascension. It was assumed the Broncos had done it with smoke and mirrors.

The fourth quarter and overtime against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl -- complete with a hook-and-lateral touchdown, a fourth-and-2 halfback pass for a TD and the famed bundle left, statue left to win the game -- perpetuated that perception. The reason those plays worked was because Harsin had worked the body first.

Brown has repeatedly said the reason he hired Harsin and has not wavered in his faith is because of Harsin's commitment to run the ball and achieve offensive balance. The head coach need only point back to Oklahoma State and the penultimate drive, when Harsin called six straight runs to put Texas into the end zone.

"We weren't scoring as fast as they were, but we were pounding them and pounding them," Brown said.

Added co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite: "That is a tremendous credit to Bryan to know, 'This is a dadgum shootout but don't forget what we can still do, chew up some clock and go down there and score.'

"That's a hard thing to do. Sometimes ... a lot of coordinators, they get caught up in that and it gets to be an air show."

The next week, against West Virginia, Harsin held true to who he was. Texas started the third quarter with a 13-play drive that lasted more than seven minutes. Obviously, the Horns eventually bungled the game with a self-inflicted error. But even in the loss it was evident that Harsin's fingerprints were no longer a sticky mess on the game plan -- as they had been against OU. Instead, he had pushed many of the right players into the right places and together they had made the right plays.

"The last two games on offense have been some of the best games I have been a part of in terms of just feeling the game, calling the game," Applewhite said of the OSU and Ole Miss games.

That Harsin now does have a feel for the game undoubtedly has to do with his maturation into the role of a playcaller at Texas and in the Big 12. But it is also because he has a feel for how the players, such as sophomore quarterback David Ash, the offensive line, sophomore running backs Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown as well as the wide receivers, have matured into his system.

"Where I feel more comfortable with the team is really Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in preparation," Harsin said. "That is where is I get my comfort level.

"Monday, the guys are coming by and say, 'Hey, I saw this, this and this. We will probably do that, right?' And I say yes and then know by Tuesday they already have a picture in their mind of what we have prepared for them on Tuesday, and they get that play list and go, 'Got it.' Then they go and execute."

When Harsin can see the clarity in his players' vision and preparation, he knows the playbook can be cracked open wider without the worry that anyone will be overwhelmed.

"You're feeling it and you are feeling those guys get into a rhythm," he said. "It starts to get easier to call things where you are not trying to think about every situation. They have prepared themselves and trust that we're going to make the right decision."

To date, save for Ash's decision to call an audible with a waning play clock against WVU, most of the decisions have been the right ones. Texas has averaged 50.7 points per game in its last three, which, a year ago, is right where one former Boise State quarterback thought they would be with Harsin at the helm.

"If the Texas quarterback knows what the game plan is, and knows how to execute it without making a bunch of mistakes, I don't see why they won't score 50 points a game with Harsin's offense," Jared Zabransky said in August 2011.

Well, Harsin and Texas have finally measured up to just that number.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation