Charlie Strong flew to Tulsa to build an offense around the abilities of young Shane Buechele. Strong brought in his 3rd coordinator in three years to implement the Bear Raid offense. Buechele was a good fit. Perhaps, with time, he could have been a great one. We'll see how Buechele adapts to Tom Herman's offense, but until then let's look back at his 2016.
We're suckers for radar graphs and all other demonstratives, we have excel and we use it at times ineffectively, but whatever. We track quarterbacks through 8-10 criteria the most important of which (and we totally stole this from Bill Connelly over at football study hall) are completion percentage, interception rate, sack rate, yards per attempt, and yards per play (taking into account passing, sack, and rushing yardage). We take those five indicators and every quarterback with 100 or attempts and give each quarterback a percentile rank amongst his peers. Is it flawless? Nope. Does it give us a pretty good indicator of how efficient a quarterback is? You bet. If you rank in the top 75 in terms of percentile, you're really good, probably elite. If you rank in the top 50% that's a decent number. Below that and we've got some work to do.
Among all quarterbacks, Buechele held his own. Among true freshman starters he was elite. It's hard to compare players with different systems and different talent levels around them, but what you expect to see out of freshmen are struggles with sack rate, interception rate and depending on how bad sack rate is, they may struggle at yards per attempt and play. With advancements in high school systems and how they meld with college systems plus 7 on 7 competitions, completion percentages are higher than they've ever been. You expect freshman can come in and perform with efficiency when it comes to completing passes.
If we take the true freshman starters from 2016, you'll see Buechele rising to the top. Actually Buechele and Baylor's Zach Smith both rank in the top four of true freshman starters in terms of passer rating and both were at or above the national average for quarterback ratings among all FBS starters.
Here are the radar's for the top four rated true freshman starters in 2016:
Jalen Hurts was a phenomenal true freshman quarterback. He was a very good quarterback considering all starters. Buechele, while not comparable to Hurts, was very good and his performance gives reason for optimism.
Buechele completed 60% of his passes ranking in the 56th percentile. Buechele came out of the gates quickly, completing 66% of his passes in August and September. This included an 81% outing vs. UTEP but Buechele was effective against a then top 10 ranked Notre Dame team in the season opening. The bright lights didn't scare him off.
In league Buechele, like the rest of the Longhorns, regressed with a 58% completion percentage. The conference slate included his two worst outings, a 41% night vs. TCU and a 50% night at Tech. It also included a three pick night in Lawrence, part of the disaster that became a punchline for the Texas season and probably served as the last straw for Strong's UT tenure.
Still, when Texas could stay ahead of the chains, Buechele was an elite level passer. On second and six or less, Buechele completed 71% of his throws and averaged over 10 yards per attempt.
Understandably if defenses could get Buechele and Texas in a third and long, Buechele struggled. He completed just 38% of his passes on 3rd and 7 or more. In those instances defenses were able to attack the pocket rather than respect what was a very good Texas run game with D'Onta Foreman. On 3rd and six or more Buechele was sacked eleven times or 10% of the time, 108th among FBS schools.
Still, Buechele set a school record for passing yards as a freshman and added 21 touchdowns. A lot of true freshman and first year starters would trade for that production.
A brief caveat, because he plays at Oregon and didn't go a bowl game, no one noticed Justin Hebert who was quietly elite in almost every efficiency category except the dreaded sack rate. But he plays in Oregon so that's as much as we're going to care about Hebert. Moving on.
Back to Buechele, in spite of having a future pro at left tackle, a former Freshman All-America at guard and an All-Big 12 performer at the other guard slot, Texas rated 110th in Bill Connely's adjusted sack rate.
Sacks can't be attributed to any one position or factor, as we've said a lot. In the Bear Raid or whatever you'd like to call it, the quarterback makes reads pre-snap that pre-determine where the ball is going. They aren't necessarily required to read downfield or go through a progression. The route tree is pruned. When it works, it's great. When it doesn't, the quarterback has very few options. For a young quarterback like Buechele it's a double edged sword: the offense is simplified at the snap and if the read is there the defense is open to explosive plays but if that initial read isn't there he's on his own.
Texas was tied for 14th in the FBS in pass plays of forty yards or more, 6th in plays of sixty yards or more. They were explosive, but as is the case with the Bear Raid, if the offense lost the ability or threat to run, they were at a disadvantage. Hence why Texas, with pretty good line talent, was 97th in the FBS at sacks allowed.
With Herman's offense coming this spring, we're interested to see how Buechele fits. At Houston Herman turned Greg Ward Jr., a receiver under the previous regime, into a surprisingly efficient passer thanks in part to Ward's running ability. Buechele is a nice athlete, but he's no Greg Ward in the run game. He is however, already, at least Ward's equal passing the ball.
Last year Texas complimented Buechele's passing ability with Tyrone Swoopes raw running ability. Swoopes is gone. Herman has stressed that you don't need to be Braxton Miller or Greg Ward Jr. to succeed in his offense, but looking back to his Ohio State days we're unable to find a player comparable to the 6'1, 191 pound Buechele taking many snaps. If Herman is going to rely on zone read plays, he'll probably need depth at the position. At Houston, Herman lost Ward Jr. for stretches of both seasons. Right now Texas' depth is Matthew Merrick and true freshman Sam Ehlinger. Both are similar in athleticism to Buechele, though Ehlinger is bigger, listed at 215.
One interesting thought is moving former starting quarterback and converted receiver Jerrod Heard back to the quarterback room. He showed the athleticism of Ward Jr., J.T. Barrett and then some in his brief time running the offense in 2015.
Fit is as critical as anything to a quarterback's success. Remember Troy Aikman initially signed with Oklahoma as part of Barry Switzer's move away from the option. A broken ankle later, Aikman was headed for Westwood and Jamelle Holloway was leading the wishbone at OU. Can Tom Herman make the evident talents of Shane Buechele fit into his scheme? Charlie Strong moved a lot of pieces to find a scheme that fit Buechele. The results were very encouraging considering.