Texas Football: 3 Changes Shawn Watson Will Bring to the Offense in 2014
Just like his boss, Charlie Strong, it's clear what Joe Wickline brings to the table as offensive coordinator. His group will play fast, and his front line is going to be one of the most well-coached units in the country.
Shawn Watson's role is a little less clear. In addition to coaching the quarterbacks, Louisville's former offensive coordinator is listed as the assistant head coach for offense. Whatever that means.
The mystery doesn't stop there. Watson is known for coaching a slow-moving West Coast offense, while Wickline prefers the lightning pace he ran at Oklahoma State, an attack Watson struggled to mesh with in his time at Nebraska.
The degree to which Watson's style will actually be incorporated remains to be seen, but there are certain areas where his expertise will be a major factor. First off, the quarterback position will produce at a much more efficient level and allow for more offensive balance. And he will finally lead to a tight end sighting.
More Efficient Quarterbacking
First and foremost, Watson and his West Coast principles were brought to Texas to fix its underachieving quarterback position. His influence will pay immediate dividends for whoever starts in 2014.
During Watson's 35-game stretch as Louisville's offensive coordinator, the Cardinals went 28-7 with Teddy Bridgewater putting up 68 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. Over that same span, the Longhorns are 21-14 with their quarterbacks throwing 38 picks against 40 scores.
Bridgewater's talent certainly helped, but the future first-rounder is just the latest of Watson's pupils to put up popcorn numbers. Mike Moschetti became the Big 12's most efficient passer in his one season running Watson's offense. When he took it to Nebraska, Joe Ganz went on to set 20 school records before Taylor Martinez became the Big 12's Freshman of the Year in 2010.
This type of success is typical of the West Coast offense. Everything is timed to the quarterback's steps, and that precision leads to high-percentage passes that move the chains. Watson has simplified it to fit the college game, which is why his quarterbacks tend to be so efficient.
When David Ash returns to practice this spring, the race is on between him and Tyrone Swoopes to take command of this scheme. Whoever does will not only have the inside track to the starting job, but is in line for one of the better quarterbacking seasons in the Big 12.
Normally when you talk about teams achieving balance, that means they need to run the ball more. In Watson's case, he will work to make the Longhorns a more consistent passing team.
West Coast attacks are typically pass-heavy, but Watson preaches running the ball as a tenet of his approach. He wants to keep the defense honest with his backs, while also setting up the play action.
Over the past three seasons, Texas has run the ball on roughly 58 percent of its plays. This would be considered exceptional balance for most teams, but the 'Horns have unable to complement their ground-and-pound style with big plays in the passing game. In both 2012 and 2013, they averaged less than seven yards per pass.
That inability to move the ball through the air has led to poor performances when faced with a deficit. This issue was painfully obvious in the Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon, as the 'Horns managed just 58 passing yards.
Contrast that with Watson's offense in 2013. The Cardinals were almost dead even in terms of play selection, calling 455 runs against 439 passes. But where the Longhorns were able to manage just an average of just 6.4 yards through the air, every Louisville pass was good for over nine yards. That's true balance.
The only thing that should be different for the Longhorns in 2014 is that, under Joe Wickline, they project to run more total plays. All things being equal, there will be no reliance on one method over the other to move the ball.
Involving the Tight End
Since Don Coryell used Kellen Winslow to baffle defenses in the '80s, tight end has been a fixture in West Coast offenses. With Watson in town, perhaps the position is ready for a comeback at Texas.
Tight end production was nonexistent for the Longhorns in 2013. Geoff Swaim, Greg Daniels and John Harris combined to reel in 11 passes for 183 yards. Remove Harris' 54-yard and 44-yard touchdowns, and that's just 85 yards and no touchdowns from this group.
This is not an isolated incident for the Longhorns. Following Jermichael Finley's departure after the 2007 season, tight end has steadily vacillated between useless and irrelevant on the 40 Acres.
A former tight ends coach himself, Watson figures to get more out of an emerging position in the game. Last season, his Cardinal tight ends Gerald Christian and Ryan Hubbell accounted for 42 catches, 662 yards and four touchdowns as big targets for Teddy Bridgewater.
JUCO recruit Blake Whiteley has already enrolled, so Watson will get both the spring and fall to determine the pecking order. Whoever it is will see plenty of work down the seam as well as in the red zone.