When Major Applewhite hired Kendal Briles to run the offense and turned the offensive line over to Randy Clements, he also turned the page on Houston's offense. Forget for a moment the baggage that they bring, and let's focus on the product. The new look Cougars under Briles will be tough to deal with because for all of his spread, air it out reputation, the real weapon of his offense will be a lethal rushing attack.
At Baylor, the Bears won because they hammered teams with a physical, downhill run and then exploited teams that committed too many assets to the box by going over the top for explosive, vertical plays. Briles offenses at Baylor and FAU ran the ball between 55% and 64% of the time depending on the year. In 2017 FAU was 15th in run percentage at 63.9%. At Baylor, when running at ideal efficiency, the Bears ran 64% of the time in 2015.
Briles' offenses averaged over five yards in six of the past eight seasons with a high watermark of six yards a carry in 2017. The Bears perfected the use of the run-pass-option, and the offense is the key. Few outside of Waco were privy to the intricacies of Baylor's scheme. There is no playbook, players at Houston will learn by doing, often running over 150 reps per 90 minute practice to prepare for the frenetic pace of game action.
The offense isn't simple as some suggest, but it is streamlined and teachable. It's also personnel flexible, so Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty, two different quarterbacks, can run the system with similar efficiency. A year after Griffin went to the NFL, lightly regarded Nick Florence led the offense to more efficient and explosive results. Baylor went on a run, winning 50 games in five years and winning the Big 12 title twice.
The offense is akin to a major league pitcher who can throw pitches at different velocities and with different movement, but from the same pitching motion. Briles' offenses don't tip pitches. Like the old wishbone option teams, they require eye and assignment discipline on every play. Forget about the quarterback in the zone read; you'll give up a big play. Don't cover the bubble; he's gone too. Assume the stalk block is coming from the boundary receiver, and he's by you on a nine route.
For a Briles' quarterback, it's a choose your own adventure book, but every option gets to green grass. But the run is the foundation. For defensive coordinators, if you aren't ready to deal with the smashing machine run game, it will pound you into oblivion.
We remember the highlights of K.D. Cannon running like the first guy out to practice, chasing down a majestic spiral from Petty. We don't remember the bruising offense line opening gaping holes for backs like Shock Linwood and Terence Williams. One doesn't happen without the other. The Bears finished in the top 15 of explosive plays from 2011 to 2015. The Bear's rushing game was the catalyst, keeping Baylor out of third and longs and forcing defenses to commit assets to the run box.
Houston could use help running the ball. In Tom Herman's 2015 season the Cougar offense was the picture of balance, rushing for 3,300 yards while passing for 3,400. The Cougars lost once that season, beating FSU in the Peach Bowl. A year later the Cougars rushed for 1,400 fewer yards, but only saw their passing production increase by 400 yards. Last season the Cougars, while improved, still struggled with a consistent run game.
Enter Briles, fresh off a ten win campaign running Florida Atlantic's offense. He melded with Lane Kiffin to adapt the Bear Raid with more movement and motion, but the results were the same. FAU averaged 6 yards a carry, rushing for nearly 4,000 yards while passing for just under 3,000. The Owls created 82 plays of 20 yards or more. FAU became one of the most explosive offenses in the FBS.
With nearly of decade of track record, chances are Briles does the same thing at Houston.