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Talkin' With Texas' Coaches: Texas Offense/Tech Defense (Part 2.0 of 3)

Faux interview day continues with Part 2.0, a chat with Greg Davis about the offense. Because I spent so much time on big picture/background--both Texas and Texas Tech--there will be a Part 2.5 delving into some more specific game planning.

PB: At least out here in the fans' world--maybe it's different amongst you coaches--when talking about Texas Tech, the conversation inevitably starts with and is dominated by chatter about their big numbers offense. But, the conversations frequently end on a brief but emphatic "Yeah but their defense blows." You know what I mean?

Greg Davis: Honestly? I really wouldn't know... I coach from the sky, interact minimally with the press, close my eyes and count to 10 when I see a newspaper, and am forbidden from using the internet.

PB: Truthfully, Greg... that's probably better.

Davis:  That I'm cocooned?

PB: That you never, ever go on the internet.

Davis:  Is it that bad?

PB:  Worse.

Davis:  Mack says it's only a few haters on the fringe, but I know better.

PB:  It's for your own good. Really.

Davis:  That bad?

PB:  Worse.

Davis:  So you're saying it's bad.

PB:  I am.

Davis: Are they not happy with this year?

PB:  They actually are, Greg. They are. But it won't last you don't paste this Tech defense on Saturday. So let's get to it... whatcha thinkin?

Davis:  Well, here's the thing: We're in a really tough spot this year, insofar as we do a few things exceptionally well, lots of things adequately, and several not-so-good.

PB:  The tough spot being, what, precisely?

Davis:  I mean a couple related things. First, against a good team our margin for error is razor thin. And within this point are a couple sub-points. For example, we rely more than most teams on a small core of players who, if any one was lost, would be a real risk to put us on the wrong side of the margin. At least against a good team.

PB:  Colt, Shipley, Quan? Who else, if anyone?

Davis:  Those three, yeah, but without Irby I'd include Ogbonnaya in that group--our best backfield blocker and Colt's uber-dependable check down receiver. And I'd probably say that both of our tackles need to stay healthy. There's quality talent behind them, but again we get back to the margins: If we lose Colt for any amount of time, it's lights out-party over. If we lose Heisman version of Colt for any amount of time, it's trouble time.

Feeling masochistic? Imagine if #8 gets hurt.
PB:  Okay so our first element on the margins is that we need the core we've got now to stay out there? I dunno, Greg. Are we really talking about a potentially fatal problem if, say, Brandon Collins has to play the Quan Cosby role?

Davis: At this point in Brandon's career? I think so. Certainly when you factor in everything--including blocks, batting down a potential interception, making a hot read with Colt, literally everything--Quan's value added per play accumulates to a sizable difference over 60 snaps. Now, that still wouldn't be the end of the world if Quan was only responsible for 5-10% of our offensive production; at that level, you lose a couple percentage points on the downgrade, but it doesn't drain the whole machine.

PB:  Okay I'm with you. Because Quan has about 25% of McCoy's receptions and yards this year, if Collins is now the guy producing 25% of our offensive value, the loss is magnified.

Davis:  Exactly. So we either sink in offensive production or somebody takes an unexpected leap forward. Might happen, but might not. So the margins are thin here.

PB: Alright let's accept the premise that we can't afford injuries to any of the key guys. Why else are we in a tight spot?

Davis:  Think it through. What's the corollary to our being a team that relies so heavily on massive production from a couple guys, such that injury to one could be devastating?

PB:  Well, if Quan Cosby performers like Brandon Collins for a game, or Colt McCoy is only 70% as good as he normally is... it's like that player was lost to injury and you're getting replacement-level production.

Davis:  Right again. And though there's more to this story than those two things, they're all the background we need for the time being: (1) We need good fortune with health, (2) We need to proactively protect McCoy, and (3) We can't afford an "off" game from the top producers.

PB:  And this is your answer, I'm guessing, to my question of "If he's healthy, where is Fozzy Whittaker?"

Davis:  Well, it certainly provides the framework through which I'm operating. In truth, unless you're starting someone like Stephen McGee, no team can afford to lose its quarterback, but, you know, you have to make decisions about the lengths to which you're going to go to protect him. I know what we can do on offense with Chris Ogbonnaya. True, his value added may have a visible ceiling, but I get blocking, I get receiving, I get a guy who can identify and hit a rushing gap if it's open.

PB:  You just don't get a creator.

Davis: Right. I get a guy with a limited ceiling, but a known positive value.

PB:  And Fozzy is an unknown.

Davis:  Like I said at the top: We're in a tough spot right now.

PB:  How does this equation change if Texas' record was, say, 6-2?

Davis: It'd change some of the approach insofar as we'd have less to lose were there any experiments that failed and/or extended development phases that required costly growing pains.

PB: Understood. So we are what we are and--with Fozzy--we've been what we've been for a reason. We survive last week against OSU because Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley are total freaks. Now what is the plan for challenging Texas Tech?

Davis: Well, you started this conversation by saying that the popular perception is that their defense ain't any good. So let's work our way backwards from there. Let's see if we're on the same page here: give me the number one reason I can't blow off Tech's defense.

PB:  Number one? How about two: the law firm of Brandon Williams and McKinner Dixon.

Davis:  Yes and yes. 1 and 1A, in no order. In tandem, the #1 concern Saturday night. They're both game-changing defensive ends who will be strong contributors no matter what, but who have the capacity to wreck us if they consistently beat our tackles.

PB:  15 sacks between these two on the year... Yikes. Is Hix ready for these machines?

Colt must track dirty pirate ninja McBath.
Davis:  On any given play? Sure. Consistently throughout the game? There aren't many tackles in the country--let alone conference--who can manage these guys successfully for a full game. So I intend to compliment these two ends more than knock on Hix. When Kyle's at his best, he can give us enough good play to prevent any extended reign of chaos, but...

PB:  But Hix hasn't been kicking consistent ass lately at all.

Davis:  No. He's been shaky at times. It's a huge concern with these two ends, who are significantly better than their OSU counterparts who Hix had trouble with at times.

PB: Okay, so there's one huge red flag we have to account for. What else?

Davis:  The safeties are both good--particularly McBath, who looks to, and increasingly does, make big plays on the ball. They'll bring him up in the box, line him up in the slot, float him back in support over the top--he's a versatile player. Colt needs to be aware of where he is and what he's responsible for on each play.

PB:  Any other individual Red Raiders we need to cover?

Davis:  Make no mistake about it: Texas Tech is more solid from top-to-bottom on the defensive two-deep than at any time I can remember, but in terms of singling out any individuals who demand special consideration--no. The ends and the safeties have fearsome potential to create chaos, turnovers, and injuries. If they leave their mark on the game, it likely means we're leaving Lubbock with a loss.

In Part 2.5 we'll work through some specific game planning to attack the Red Raiders.