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Cal vs. Texas Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Longhorns Offense

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The new and seemingly improved Cal defense rolls into Austin to take on a much maligned Texas defense

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven't heard, and for some reason you have clicked over to this site for the first time, Cal is heading to Austin for the first time since 1970 to take on the Texas Longhorns. Texas is 1-1, coming off a win against Rice that sort of righted the ship. Their athletic director got fired last week, so the ship is still a bit perforated so to speak. The Longhorns made a recent QB change from Tyrone Swoopes to Jerrod Heard after Swoopes got destroyed in a 38-3 evisceration against Notre Dame. Swoopes went 7-22 for 93 yards, which seemingly necessitated a move to Heard in the next week.

Texas coach Charlie Strong also stripped quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson of his playcalling duties after week one, handing them over to wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. Oddly enough Norvell ran a run heavy offense against Rice, mainly due to getting a lot of help from special teams and an opportunistic defense.

As a side note, I know I don't do a preview of the defense, but the offensive line needs to account for Malik Jefferson on every play. From watching Texas play Rice, he ends up in the right place at the right time on nearly every play. They will use him as a pass rusher often, so I hope Cal's offensive line is prepared for that.

Personnel

As noted before, Jerrod Heard has ascended to the starting quarterback position over Tyrone Swoopes. Heard, a redshirt freshman, won two state titles as a Texas high school quarterback. Heard posted some Tim Tebow-like numbers last week, throwing only seven passes, completing four with two touchdowns. Heard had 10 carries for 96 yards, with a 35 yarder that would have been a 53 yarder if it hadn't been shortened due to an illegal block in the back penalty. He's able to scramble well out of the pocket, so keeping him contained with a good pass rush will be critical.

Johnathan Gray is one of his running mates in the backfield. Gray, a senior from Aledo, Texas, has not had the most prolific of seasons so far. He's been remarkably consistent, rushing for about 700 yards each of the past three years on about 4.5 yards per carry. He has a solid burst when hitting the hole, and will probably be next to Heard for the majority of their zone read plays. He hasn't produced too much so far, gaining 57 yards on 17 carries. Gray has had issues with fumbles in the past, so that's something to look out for. D'Onta Freeman is also a candidate to receive carries for the Longhorns.

From the receiver spots, there isn't much to talk about. John Burt appears to be the big play guy, as he has two receptions on the season for 117 yards. One was a 69 yard touchdown against Rice, the other was a 48 yarder that set up the sole field goal against Notre Dame. He's a four-star freshman out of a very impressive recruiting class. Daje Johnson and Armanti Foreman are the other two receivers to look out for. Johnson is a speedster who returned a punt for a touchdown against Rice, and Foreman had a big 32 yard TD reception in the same game. Texas has recruited well enough to give themselves weapons, but ingame circumstances haven't given them the chance to show what they can do.

Scheme:

It's difficult to say the kind of scheme that Texas will continue to run with Heard. They only ran 38 offensive plays against Rice, due to the Owls holding on to the ball or Texas continually having good field position due to turnovers and punt returns, or quick touchdowns.

Texas has decided seemingly to shift to an offense that suits Heard's dual-threat style at the quarterback spot. From the limited action the offense saw against Rice, here's what can be gleaned from it:

Texas Trips Unbalanced


In this formation, they have an unbalanced set, with two receivers on the line on the left side, essentially telegraphing a run in that direction. On this specific play, Heard ran a zone read and kept it, but got swallowed up by an aggressive defense. Considering the strength of Cal's run defense, they may not repeat this one.

Texas Trips Balanced

Here they run a formation more consistent with the spread offense we know and tolerate. They run an inside zone off of this where the tackle kicks out the end. Gray has a huge lane to run to, as the middle linebacker is frozen by Heard's running ability. The trick of stopping this is in filling gaps, getting off blocks, and staying disciplined in assignments.

On to the passing game. It's difficult to know what to expect, because again, Heard has only thrown the ball 8 times this season. Overall they've thrown the ball 33 times this season. For a comparison, Jared threw 32 passes in the first half against Grambling State. Both TD passes against Rice came on vertical routes, the first of which appeared to be a push-off. They'll run simple patterns, some swing routes, some curls, and verticals. No real timing routes. The four passes Heard completed were on those three types of routes. This can be a great moment for the Cal secondary. If the Bears get a good sized lead early, Texas will have to go to the air. Playing a young quarterback and tormenting him could build the confidence that the secondary needs to be successful as the season goes on.

Conclusion:

The one thing that Notre Dame did well to force a quarterback and a coordinator change was to pressure the quarterback and gang tackle. Every play seemed to bring swarms of blue jerseys on Swoopes in the backfield if he tried to scramble. Rice did a decent job in stopping all ballcarriers not named Jerrod Heard by swarming to the ball as well. The blueprint has been laid out for the Cal defense. Swarm to the ball, stay disciplined about the quarterback running, get a lot of pressure, and don't get beat deep. If they can follow those four tenets, then the rest of us are in for a lovely Saturday evening.