The name of the game for Texas this season is tempo. As in full-throttle, no-huddle, don’t-stop-to-catch-your-breath pace of play.
The plan is to put pressure on defenses by snapping the ball so fast they don’t have time to substitute and force them into personnel mismatches. Coach Mack Brown’s goal is to average 80 or more plays from the line of scrimmage, a blistering pace that could wear down opponents.
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The No. 15 Longhorns open the season Saturday night at home against New Mexico State. As programs like Oregon and Oklahoma have shown in recent years, when the fast pace is clicking, it can be overwhelming. Texas would know: the Longhorns have been blown out by the Sooners the last two years.
But while the offense is designed to wear down defenses, the pace can be hard on the offense as well. Texas players say the biggest adjustment has been making sure they’re in good enough shape to handle the new demands.
While the team went through a tough offseason conditioning program, senior wide receiver Mike Davis said the offense is hardest on the lineman, all of whom weigh at least 300 pounds. After crashing against defensive linemen, they have to hustle to the next play.
”You have to be physically ready to handle this kind of stuff,” Davis said. ”It’s not easy.”
Brown said he’s forced his assistant coaches to develop a more reliable two-deep roster to meet the physical demand.
Playing an up-tempo offense doesn’t mean the Longhorns will pass every down. It’s not about what play is called but how fast it’s called. Brown, who says he still wants a physical run game, wants the Longhorns to be able to snap the ball every 15 seconds.
Whether they do is almost immaterial. Just the threat of a quick snap can keep defenses off-balance and keep fresh players on the sideline.
”You don’t have to snap it every 15 seconds,” Brown said. ”But you can if you want to.”
Brown has had to learn a few tricks on how to do it, from how to substitute players to teaching players and support staff how not to waste time. A Big 12 official advised Brown that the ball can be set for play faster if a running back or receiver hands it directly to an official after the whistle instead of leaving it on the ground or just throwing it in their direction. Even the ball boys have been drilled on getting the ball to officials quicker.
Every second counts.
”We’ve worked through all of that,” Brown said.
Brown announced his plan for the up-tempo attack when Texas began spring practice. In theory, more plays from scrimmage will result in more points, and in a wide-open league like the Big 12, offense can rule the day.
Last season, Texas averaged 69 offensive plays and 36 points per game. Oregon averaged 81 plays and 49.6 points.
Texas flashed some of its hurry-up last season when the Longhorns rallied to beat Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
”They got tired” in the fourth quarter, Brown said.
That was the first game of play-calling duties for co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, who has had eight months to install his entire offense in the up-tempo attack.
”We had two weeks of practice for the Alamo Bowl,” quarterback David Ash said. ”We’ve a whole lot more now.”