Cougars have to be worried about who's pulling strings on Texas offense

2011-09-08T00:15:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:06Z Cougars have to be worried about who's pulling strings on Texas offenseJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
September 08, 2011 12:15 am  • 

Garrett Gilbert doesn't scare BYU. 

It's the Texas quarterback's new coach who has to be a concern for the Cougars when they play in Austin on Saturday.

In a rare case, the guy not on the field is a bigger issue. The strings are worth watching as closely as the puppets.

Bryan Harsin is the man of mystery, the cloak to Texas' flailing issues that were enough last season to assist in breaking a string of 12 consecutive years of going to a bowl game.

Harsin is the sleeve, the joker and the ace in the hole as Texas' new offensive coordinator. He can straight-up beat your team, but it's the mere threat of deception that will keep the Cougars from plain ol' attacking, even though assuredly that's what they want.

BYU's front seven, as good as those linemen and linebackers showed themselves to be at Ole Miss, has to be wary of digging in too hard and attacking Gilbert and Harsin.

Harsin has a Boise State playground background. It's like having a Harvard degree. It means you're very good, respected, at something. In Harsin's case, it doesn't mean his style is of no substance. On the contrary. It means the 34-year-old is innovative and can make the most out of whatever parts he has available.

He makes it neither secret nor shame that he wants to find any way possible to produce points. Constant technique meets well planned trickery.

What's it all mean?

First, Texas simply doesn't have a stellar quarterback who can change the game. So Harsin's job is to manage Gilbert, and hopefully in the process develop him with the aid of former Texas quarterback star Major Applewhite. (Applewhite suffered a slight demotion, as Harsin is the play-caller.)

Gilbert is not Kellen Moore, who is still at Boise State and thriving even without his former coach.

Gilbert went 13-of-23 for 239 yards in the season opener against Rice.

He threw one touchdown, but that was an add-on to a game that finally had the Longhorns comfortable late.

Texas led, 13-9, when they used a trick-play touchdown from a 36-yard pass between a pair of receivers, and a shortened field (thanks to a Rice turnover) in the second half.

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has talked to his former Mountain West Conference colleague, TCU's Gary Patterson, about Harsin. The Horned Frogs have played Boise State frequently in recent years and Patterson catalogued more than 50 gadget plays that could show up.

The Cougars would love to blitz, but have to be careful about getting burned by the burnt orange smoke and mirrors.

The mere threat has to be a constantly humming siren in BYU's mindset.

"A lot of it's being aware, looking at your keys and not trying to get tricked by all of the motion they do," linebacker Jordan Pendleton said. "We need to focus on what our coverage is, and what each player's role is on the defense. They definitely try to confuse you."

Here's what isn't the least bit puzzling: Texas under the junior Gilbert is prone for turnovers.

He didn't have an interception against Rice, but for his career has 13 touchdowns compared to 21 interceptions.

BYU must work Gilbert's panicked past against him. Force him to throw lazy, fearful ducks off a back-foot release. It could be the work of one man, Kyle Van Noy, the season-opening hero, off the edge from his outside-linebacker post.

Or, maybe even get 100,000 home fans in Gilbert's head.

Rice sacked Gilbert twice in a row on the Longhorns' first third-quarter drive. Fans booed. Was it aimed at Harsin, or the player?

No difference. They need each other at this point.

"I thought (Gilbert) did well. We had no turnovers at that (quarterback) position," Harsin said. "I thought he threw the ball with authority, and there were a couple balls in there that got dropped that I thought were really good throws."

This is how wildly unscientific recruiting is: Gilbert was once Jake Heaps, the No. 1-ranked (if you believe this sort of list is possible) quarterback out of high school.

Early into his third year, one ahead of Heaps — who gets talked about more fondly by opposing coaches — Gilbert is not the same type of weapon.

Defenses worry about how Heaps can make them look bad.

BYU's under an increasingly aggressive Mendenhall has to be more concerned how Harsin will make the Longhorns offense look good.


Jason Franchuk can be reached at

Be sure to follow him at his new Twitter account, @harkthefranchuk

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