Film study: UH takes first step toward building an offensive identity

For once, the offense felt like it was more than just a bunch of plays

On the most recent Talkin’ Bout Them Cougars podcast, I talked a little about what I liked about the offense in the Sam Houston game. Today, I want to go into a little more detail about it. What we saw could be the first step toward building an offensive identity.

the daily #60 | 9/29/2023 | Archives

Slow Down The Defense. I love an offense that puts pressure on the defense and makes them defend the entire field. I don’t care what you call the offense. It could be called the Air Raid, Run & Shoot, West Coast, Gulf Coast, RPO, or Chuck & Duck, I don’t care. I want an offense that goes hard with a good tempo, puts playmakers in space, and runs defenses ragged all over the field.

That is exactly what we got on Saturday against Sam Houston State. The offense moved quickly with a purpose, Donovan Smith made quick decisions and got the ball fast to playmakers so they could make plays. Dana Holgorsen addressed the short passing game in the post-game press conference:

“It’s part of our offense. We are not 100 percent RPO-driven like some teams are when they run it a lot with slants and screens, but we are getting creative with motions and creating leverages.

“This is an Eman Naghavi thing, with his background and history on it. Obviously, we have been motioning for years, but being able to split the defense, stretch the field on the run game, and then being able to throw RPOs on the perimeter.”

UH uses motion but rarely as often as in the Sam Houston game. Tracking it on my rewatch, the offense put men in motion more times on the first two drives than they did the entire game against TCU.

Men in motion is the easiest way to start slowing down a defense. My mantra is if a player is thinking, he isn’t playing. He’s not reacting. The offense knows what play they are running and where they are going on the field, and the defense has to react to that.

When a man goes in motion, responsibilities can shift for a defender, and they must re-identify their responsibilities. Most importantly, every defender has to get back on the same page. All it takes is one person to be out of sync, and the defense can get blown up for a big play.

Moving a man allows the QB another opportunity to identify what the defense might be doing before the ball is snapped. This could tip off coverage, blitzes, and where they might come from. Every bit of information the QB can gather before the snap makes his post-snap reads and his decision quicker.

Donovan Smith after his most successful night as UH QB // Photo by Mario Puente

RPO Concepts. This adds more thinking to the defenses’ plate and allows UH to exploit reactions. It started from the first play of the game.

A simple run-look up the middle coerced the end and LB to attack the ball. The safety bit as well. I love dragging Manjack across the field because it accomplishes a few things. Obviously, it gets him into space. But the real benefit is that the end and safety can’t see him coming. Their eyes are on the ball, and they’re shuffling their feet towards it. Manjack’s movement is shielded by the mess of humans up front, and by the time the defenders pick him up, he is gone. Here is a 2nd view of the replay.

That play set the tone. Not only did get a nice chunk of yards for a first down, it laid the foundation for a series of calls that can be built on. It shows the dense that there are multiple things to worry about coming out of a familiar set. With one snap, UH established an implied threat. The defense can’t over-commit without risking big plays.

Here’s another variation. This time, with the added wrinkle of Smith showing the run option before dumping it to the dragging Josh Cobbs.

UH utilized the short passing game and spread the field against the Kats. Getting playmakers in space is something that UH has thrived on over the years in every quality offense that has been run. It also helps offset weaknesses in the offensive line. It is hard to hit the quarterback when the ball is out of his hands almost immediately.

UH was 27/31 behind the line of scrimmage and balls 1-to-9 yards downfield. In the first quarter, Smith was 10-12 for 116 yards. Only two passes were thrown over 20 yards, one a completion for 34 yards. That was a great throw, but also in rhythm and on time.

The rest of Smith’s completions averaged out to 9.1 yards. Those move the chains and allow you to control the ball with simple, high-percentage passes. A lot of them acted as extended handoffs. It also sets things up to take advantage down the field later in the game.

There was a lot to like about this game offensively. I can’t say that this translates perfectly to success against better teams. But for once this season, the offense felt like it was more than just a bunch of plays. They built on one another, attacked a defense, and forced them to make decisions quickly. That is what can carry over to better opponents. That is what can become UH’s offensive identity.

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“As a University of Houston alum, I am honored that the University of Houston Athletics chose our firm to be their official and exclusive personal injury law firm,” says Stewart J. Guss, the firm’s founder.