Trust is what makes Texas special; trust is what makes them vulnerable. Trust in Colt McCoy allows Greg Davis to treat the passing game like the running game - whn Colt completes 80% of his throws and can scramble for first downs on other passing plays that break down, how can you not trust it. Trust in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley allow Colt to release throws before either receiver has made their break and know that the ball will be caught. This quadrangle of trust is leading to an offense of historic proportions, an 8-0 record, and dreams well beyond expectations for this season.
At the same time, this intense trust is beginning to make the Horns' offense to become simplified. When every pass goes to Shipley or Cosby, and every successful run is the same trap play to the left, defenses gradually begin to re-position to get better angles on the blockers or jump the passing routes. The offense gets tougher, which makes the Horns even more reliant on plays and players they trust.
So the question for the Horns is, how do they build trust in new plays and players while inside the crucible of an undefeated potential Big 12 title and national championship season?
A lack of trust in the young receivers and their ability to make plays, particularly down the field may eventually be the downfall of this year's Horns. I was struck, in re-watching the OSU game, how infrequently Colt even looked deep or to receivers other than Cosby or Shipley. He had time on several play-action passes to look deep, but instead threw to Cosby or Shipley right away on intermediate routes against the zone. It is true that he threw to Kirkendoll on a slant and to Collins on a deep out, but 2 of McCoy's incomplete passes were drops made by Kirkendoll and Williams. Even the announcers were joking after Williams drop by saying, "No wonder he throws just to Cosby or Shipley."
A case in point: in the first half, OSU sent a full-scale (3-4 people) blitz 3 times. Result: an incomplete pass, TD to Shipley on the fade route to the left, and the brilliant TD catch by Cosby. In the second half, the full-scale blitz yielded interception called back by the roughing the quarterback call, an interception, and the 20 yard pass to Shipley to the 4 on the Horns' last drive. Why the change in fortunes? The two bad passes resulted because of Colt throwing off his back foot, but also because the OSU DB's were playing the route much tougher because they knew where it was going to go.
Without being at the game, it's impossible to know whether other receivers were open, but one could just see the coverage on Cosby and Shipley getting tighter as the game progressed. One could almost feel the collective play-calling sphincters of Greg Davis and Mack Brown getting tighter as the game got tighter.
Trust issues are also infecting the running game. Greg Davis and Mack Brown trust Chris Ogbonnaya to make the right reads, pass block, and make the catch when thrown the ball. Despite this well-founded trust, the running game lacks sorely needed explosiveness potentially provided by Fozzy Whittaker. If Fozzy is not playing when he is supposedly 100% healthy, it must be because of a lack of trust. And perhaps it's true that Fozzy is not as effective a blocker as Ogbonnaya or McGee. But Fozzy brings a threat to the table that neither Ogbonnaya or McGee can - the threat to go the distance.
That threat has incalculable value. I watched the OSU LB's carefully on running and passing plays. LB's who didn't blitz just sat on their heels, read the play and charged the gap. They had that luxury with Ogbonnaya because he's not straight up fast or shifty enough to make them miss, unlike last year, when Jamaal Charles was so fast, he would make it through the gap before the LB could get there. With Fozzy in the game, the LB's would have to pick their gap faster to avoid that happening, which would then allow Fozzy to pick his hole. A faster reaction from the LB's would also open up more play-action passes on play fakes.
We have read ad nauseum about Mack's (and by proxy Greg Davis') conservatism, and as the stakes get higher with each game, one can feel the dependence on certainty from the offense growing. There are good reasons for going with what coaches and players "know" will work, but any football coach knows that eventually the defense will also "know" what's coming, and a team needs alternative players, pass routes, protection schemes, and maybe even a couple of trick plays to keep the defense off balance and not zoned in on Cosby, Shipley, and McCoy. Fundamentally, the coaches need to trust the young, talented, but unproven players to make plays and to make them when the game is on the line.
Along with that need to diversify as a team, the young players, and most especially Malcolm Williams and Fozzy Whittaker, need to step up and break out as playmakers as fans are all confident that they can.
As the Texas Tech rumble on the High Plains approaches, the Horns appear to need a healthy dose of invigoration, with new wrinkles, playmakers, and attitudes to take this team to the next level. Such freshness may be even more critical should the Horns pull off the incredible feat of beating Tech in Lubbock, when the whole team breatrhes a collective sigh, adrenaline levels drop, and a feisty Baylor, Kansas or aTm can gameplan their way inot a game they otherwise have no business being in.