Confusion rampant on offensive line

Jori Epstein

In Texas’ 38-3 loss at Notre Dame last week, confusion abounded. The offense seemed confused which plays it was running. The defense didn’t maintain its coverage, despite studying the routes prior, head coach Charlie Strong said. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes looked confused as the Fighting Irish defensive line nearly trampled him every play. He looked further confused when they did, in fact, trample him – Swoopes was sacked two times in the contest, despite playing just 52 snaps.

And amidst this air of confusion hid possibly the most confused unit of all: Texas’ offensive line. The group – which started nearly from scratch a year ago and promoted freshmen to starting positions in the offseason – seemed largely ineffective. The line’s weakness gave both Swoopes and redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard mere seconds to execute plays. The result: Texas managed to get off just 23 passes, completing just eight. Even its run game fizzled, as lead running back Johnathan Gray received just eight carries. Often, Swoopes was left scrambling. He had no time to do or think of anything else.

“They’re not going to give you a perfect pocket every time, so I’ve just got to work with what I’ve got,” Swoopes said Monday.

Valiant of him, but he shouldn’t have to work with what he got in South Bend. Senior offensive guard Sedrick Flowers agreed that the line needs to step up.

“Especially being an O-lineman, you don’t want to see your quarterback running around for his life, running around from defenders,” Flowers said. “That’s on us. We’ve got to play a whole lot better than we did the last game.”

Flowers is right — the 2015 Texas offensive line, even with new blood, should be miles ahead of the talent level it showed Saturday. Entering Texas’ second game of 2014 vs. BYU, the offensive line was understandably weak. It boasted just five combined starts, lost its stalwart center to a season-ending ankle break and lost two starting linemen to discipline suspensions. But without those excuses or shortages this year – and with months to practice together as a unit, anticipating game play – the disjointed, gap-heavy offensive line came as a surprise.

Personnel changes made this week should improve the offensive coordination. Wide receivers coach Jay Norvell was promoted to offensive coordinator Wednesday.  Norvell’s familiarity with up-tempo offense should enable smoother play-calling against Rice this weekend. And without mixed signals, all offensive players – the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and linemen – should find themselves executing the offense more smoothly.

Against Rice, fans hope, the Horns will look a little less confused. They’ll have a weaker opponent, homefield advantage and nearly 100,000 fans. Norvell will guide their moves. But even with clear messages, the action-makers won’t be able to pull off their game plan without time. That onus falls on the offensive line. This week, they best step up. According to Flowers, they know it.

“We were trying, just to help the guys out, but we were letting them get inside of us,” Flowers said. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to play with good technique."