On Sunday, I commented briefly on one aspect of PB’s terrific Texas-OU wrapup. His post centered on Greg Davis’ failings; I responded, “My view on Greg Davis’ performance is somewhat different than yours.” PB answered (well, kind of challenged) with, “Look forward to your take on GD.”
With that background, anything I say about Davis is certain to be looked at as a defense of the oft-criticized offensive coordinator. That’s not my intent. But I do feel that too many of us are looking at the half-empty side of Davis’ performance – and specifically his play-calling. This is an attempt at taking the half-full side. Does Davis frustrate me? Sure. Absolutely. I cuss him (or the play he just called). I throw (foam rubber) bricks at the TV when one of his calls results in a drive-killing abortion of a play.
But I see a bigger picture to the issue of “Davis’ play-calling.” There are two ways to look at it: (1) An overall view of UT’s offense, and (2) the specific calls and decisions made in Saturday’s (it still feels good) win over OU and other recent games. The first of these is worth an in-depth post; if another deep-thinker doesn’t beat me to the topic, I’ll deal with it in a week or two. As to the second . . . Like you, I cringed when the Longhorns lined up in a five-wide set on third-and-short situations against the Sooners. We can all agree (maybe even the coach nobody criticizes since 41-38) that those were bad decisions. As to the rest . . . Please look after the jump.
The short pass is the bread and butter of the offense. Has been since Florida Atlantic in 2008. Texas hasn’t employed a run-oriented offense since Jamaal Charles’ last game. In only one season (2007) since Cedric Benson’s last game can UT’s offense be described as run-first. We’ve adopted the “We Are Texas” mantra this season. Well . . . what we are is a passing team. Short to intermediate length passes aimed at a variety of receivers running quick routes. Often, there’s no true tight end on the field. Sometimes, there’s no running back next to Colt McCoy. Davis’ game plan for OU reflected that. This was the time to change, to become run-oriented or try deeper passes? Against OU? I figured Texas’ biggest concern would be achieving ANY rushing success against the Sooners’ terrific front four, and linebackers generally regarded as better at stopping the run than pursuing and tackling in space. Taking the game beyond them seemed like a good plan .
Any play will be successful if it’s executed properly. Many (most) of the first-half plays against OU were not well executed. Repeating: They were not well executed. Blockers whiffed or failed in their 1-on-1 matchups. Receivers (you know which ones) didn’t get open. The one receiver proven capable of getting open was so blanketed that his roommate couldn’t see him. And, as McCoy said postgame, OU came with blitzes he’d never seen. Two points here: You can’t blame the Sooners for going all-in to stop the short passing game with kamikaze blitzes and tight initial coverage on the receivers. And you can’t blame UT’s coaches (Davis, if you prefer) for going largely with the same plays that have produced an 18-1 record over the last 1½ seasons. Regardless, you gotta execute. That means block, achieve separation from DBs, make the right reads. Everybody failed there. The everybody includes Davis. But it includes way more players/coaches than just Davis.
Any play-caller makes his decisions within certain parameters. For example, you don’t run a bunch of dive plays if you’re down 20 just before halftime. To counter OU’s pass rush, Davis could have inserted a top-notch blocker at running back to buy McCoy some extra time. But Chris Ogbonnaya used up his eligibility last year. Davis could have replaced tight end Greg Smith with a better receiver. But David Thomas isn’t a Longhorn these days. My point is that when there’s no complete tight end, no real blocking option among the running back stable, you’re limited in what plays will work. You can call ‘em (as Davis did), but their chances of working aren’t real high. And there was McCoy’s physical status. We learned later he was not 100 percent healthy leading up to the game. Then, he ripped his thumb on a helmet so badly that he wouldn’t let reporters see it two days later. Might this have impacted the execution of some plays? Which plays were called?
Davis is paid the big bucks to adjust on the fly. Again, we can all agree this isn’t achieved rapidly or efficiently. Poor starts are more than a nuisance; they’re part of the DNA of this team. (And, lest we forget, last year’s.) But adjustments ARE made. Usually at halftime. That’s soon enough. The misdirection plays, the greater emphasis on running the ball, the substitution of Marquise Goodwin for John Chiles, are among the adjustments Davis (or the staff) made in-game.
Davis’ play-calling on Saturday wasn’t of the jaw-dropping, where’d-that-come-from variety. In a tight, defense-dominated game, you might have wished for something unexpected. Why take silly gambles when the LAST THING you want to do is take the game out of the hands of your defense? If your defense (and special teams) can win the game for you, let ‘em. Help ‘em out. Don’t get in the way.
Give me a moment here to adjust my suit of armor, and fire your best shots. I’m a man. I’m (sadly) well over 40. I can take it.
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