Playing quarterback is hard. Playing quarterback without a run game, minimal pass protection, and an unimaginative game plan and playcaller is harder. So before we dig into the things Shane Buechele did wrong on Saturday, let’s briefly consider what he had to overcome. Some of this will be a defense of Buechele, but my goal is to convey that there are challenges that won’t change whether Buechele, Sam Ehlinger or Jerrod Heard is taking the snaps.
No Run Game
As best I can tell, the plan to run the ball was: Don’t. In the base offense (not Wildhorn or whatever they’re calling it), Texas ran inside zone 67% of the time. The offensive line got movement 0% of the time.
Now, the Maryland defense was giving up the outside, which is why Texas threw so many bubble and swing screens, and they were productive plays. But Maryland also left itself open to some other runs, especially counters. Tim Beck called counter-G once, but Buechele threw the bubble screen instead – a good thing, because the playside of the offensive line took the play off.
It’s true that Texas fell behind early, but by the second half, they had made it a close game. And besides, converting short-yardage situations is a lot easier when there’s actually a threat to run the ball. Maybe a more mobile quarterback can open things up, but the benefits will be mitigated if the team is running only one play, poorly, and changing only the ballcarrier.
Occasional Free Rushers
Connor Williams had his worst game as a Longhorn.
And he still looked like an All-American next to his peers.
Because the protection was so bad, Texas used more seven-man protections. The result was always something like this.
2.5 to 3 receivers trying to find space against seven defenders. Buechele pressured himself on this particular play, but we’ll get to that.
On a day when the playcalling was very special, this goal line series stood out.
The first clip is a crack screen (at least according to Tom Herman). Reggie Hemphill didn’t block the safety, so it wouldn’t have mattered, but I also don’t know what Dorian Leonard is doing. He could block the cornerback and stay on him – which isn’t a crack screen – or he could act like he’s running a slant and then block the first defender who shows. He tried to do both but succeeded only in telling the cornerback that it was a screen. The point is to pull the corner inside (he’ll think he’s covering a slant route) and cut off the pursuit, eliminating two defenders. Of course, there’s also the issue of Garrett Gray, whose fruitless hop to catch the ball slowed his turn upfield.
The second clip is a snag concept that looks to be designed to go to Chris Warren*. That raises the question: Why not have those receivers block? But there’s a lesson that we can learn here, one that you’d expect a Power 5 offensive coordinator to anticipate, not learn with us, the fans. When the offense throws the ball to the flat over and over, eventually the defense starts jumping those routes. When the defense starts jumping short routes, other routes come open behind them – like Leonard’s corner route on this play.
I thought maybe Beck was concerned that Buechele couldn’t see over the line well enough near the goal line to throw it over the middle, but then he called this levels concept on a two-point conversion attempt.
And Buechele executed it well, putting the ball up over the defender and… right through Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s hands.
In fact, there were lots of things that Buechele did well, and some plays that he singlehandedly turned from bad to good.
Here’s a passing concept that will become familiar in this post. I don’t know why Texas wasn’t running a slant/flat combination to the boundary, unless Beck gets a bonus for every wasted receiver/route**. Maryland gets not just pressure, but a free rusher, with only four guys. The likeliest hot route, Hemphill, is bracketed. This is a terrible play, but Buechele keeps it alive and converts it into a first down.
This time it’s 3rd & 9, and the offense is trying to set up a drive concept to the field, with Duvernay running a drag route and Hemphill running a dig route behind him. It takes a little time to develop, which isn’t something Buechele had much of. There’s no blitz this time, just Patrick Vahe failing to pick up a defensive line twist stunt, something he’s struggled with his entire career. Before Hemphill has even made his cut, Buechele has a loose defender – ONE OF ONLY THREE PASS RUSHERS ON THE PLAY – barreling down on him. Again he keeps the play alive and completes it for a first down. I don’t mean to excuse it, but seeing plays like this helps to explain why Buechele flushes himself from the pocket at times.
Where Buechele Fell Short
Texas ran this double-in concept repeatedly in short-yardage situations.
Maryland is in 2-Man coverage (two deep safeties, man coverage underneath). The Y (Gray) should and does clear out space for Buechele to throw to the slot (Humphrey), but instead Buechele hesitates and the pressure gets to him. And yeah, “Why are they running four-yard routes on 3rd & 8?” is a great question.
Here’s the same concept from above combined with a go route and a quick out. It’s 4th & 2, the sort of situation where you’d like to have the threat of pounding the ball with your 250-pound running back. Maryland is again in what looks to be 2-Man, but I think the Terps had wisely started to double team Collin Johnson by this point. That may be why Buechele didn’t throw this ball, but I doubt it; it looks like there should be enough cushion to the safety for the throw to be safe. The limited space between Johnson and the sideline could be another reason he hesitated. Whatever he saw, it’s not the end of the world, but he makes things way more difficult when he leaves the pocket for no reason. It constricts the amount of field he has to work with and gives the linebacker who’s spying him a free path to the sack. That leads us to our next problem.
Same concept. Maryland’s in Cover 3 this time. Based on the concepts and coverage, Buechele picked the right side of the field to attack, but the DB covering Hemphill has outside leverage on the out route. So Buechele’s first look wasn’t open, but the play isn’t doomed yet. The pocket is intact, and he still has a whole other side of the field to check out – there’s even one whole wide receiver over there***! (The one guy who’s open is Kyle Porter.) Instead, Buechele stumbles forward for a few yards. At least he got the first down.
Buechele wasn’t good, but he did lots of things right, and he was hyper accurate on nearly every throw. Three passes were dropped (a long ball to Johnson, a two-point conversion to Humphrey and a deep comeback to Duvernay), the game plan and playcalling were unimaginative, and Maryland overwhelmed Texas’ pass protection all day. I expect improvement this Saturday against San Jose St., but getting this fixed over the long term isn’t as simple as changing who’s under center.
* I’m basing this assumption on all the trouble Texas went through to move Warren around before the play, but the more I watch it – now that the clips are already made and the article already written – the more I think Buechele may have pre-determined the throw himself.
** The personnel decisions, especially when Texas went with empty sets, were puzzling. Wide receiver is the deepest position group on the team. Texas is down by multiple scores. They’re going to throw the ball. They telegraph that they’re going to throw the ball by lining up in empty. WHY ARE THEY WASTING TWO OF THEIR FIVE SPOTS FOR ELIGIBLE RECEIVERS ON GARRETT GRAY AND KYLE PORTER (SOMETIMES CHRIS WARREN)? If they’re going to tell the defense what they’re about to do, at least do it with the best players for the job out there on the field. This is like lining up in goal line but playing only the guys on your roster who are 200 pounds or less.