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In the Trenches - Brutal Lessons

Wow, what a strange game. After re-watching it, I came away reminded of the Texas-OU clashes from the mid-1970's, in which neither team could do anything for 3/4 of the game because the defenses were so amped up. The media looked on the game as sloppy because of all the turnovers and penalties, but the speed and power on both defenses was the root of most of the miscues (more about that later). As Mack noted, it was like a prize fight, but one in which neither team could do much more than jab without being counterpunched. Both team's collective faces look like this charming visage




Only Texas' players are smiling

Some lessons from the game:

Greg Davis - bureaucratic loser or offensive investor?

The Colorado and Oklahoma games, coupled with strangely slow offensive performances in the first halves of ULM, Wyoming, and Texas Tech, have the fanbase in a mob mentality. Greg, you'd best not be seen at Walmart this week. Frustration with the offensive philosophy and playcalling was eloquently discussed in PB's postgame react. But I have to wonder, is the ineptitude all on GD? Or did multiple players simply not execute? Or is the lack of execution created by poor playcalling? And round and round we go.

Davis the Bureaucrat

In his excellent post-mortem, ScipioTex, who's depth of understanding of the game exceeds that of any member of the press by two orders of magnitude (that's 100 for you English majors), had this to say about GD:

In an alternate universe, Greg Davis is employed as Process Manager Grade 3 at the Port Arthur DMV. This is the guy who goes on break when you’re next in line and sits staring at you at his desk slicing up an apple during the noon hour rush knowing full well that he could take a longer break one hour from now when no customers are in line.


via  Add some glasses, 25 pounds, a golf shirt and a gentle twang, and call me when Mack retires.

Is Davis a bureaucrat of a coach? In manner, yes. The Davis way is to follow the formula, stay within the "rules," and cover your ass with excuses. This is the guy who is shocked when the other team blitzes more than expected, or which blitzes less than expected. A man that gets excited when a back runs for 7 yards or a receiver catches a pass for 3 yards. A guy with a perpetually clean desk and color-coded files, and who has to go to the restroom when a receiver drops a pass.

It seems clear now that not only does GD not anticipate well, he fails to consider that others might anticipate his own anticipation. Such was the case with the OU game. Texas read for the last month about how teams were attacking OU over the middle, by golly, just like the Horns did in the RRS in 2008. So here we go boys - we get to get'em where we got'em last time. News flash. Brent Venables read the same articles, and looked at the same tape and said to himself and his team, "Whatever they might do, Texas is NOT going to beat us by throwing short stuff over the middle or that bubble screen crap." So Brent dials up blizes up the middle, stacks coverage in the middle and trusts that Chiles and Kirkendoll cannot beat his corners in single coverage. Furthermore he instructs his charges to forget covering the actual receiver, and run instead to all of Colt's favorite spots to throw. Result, Colt is flabbergasted that there was nothing available in the middle. The flex TE has 0 catches. Jordan Shipley has 4 for a paltry 27 yards. Colt gets blasted back to the Stone Age, minus a fingernail. Self-flagellation by the fanbase ensues, while GD just blinks and points out the three good plays and talks about "how hard our kids played" on his "from the film room" expose.'

For an alternative view and observations about offensive and defensive line play, make the jump.

Greg Davis the investor.

My own opinion is that GD comes across as the above because of a fundamental, irrevocable and ultimately frustrating philosphy of playcalling. GD thinks of "situations" in which plays are like investments to "purchase" for each game situation: they each have their potential reward and associated risk. He thinks of down and distance and picks plays with the acceptable risk:reward ratio. The entire invention of the Texas "short passing game" emerged from the chaos of an inexperienced, relatively untalented offensive line in 2007 coupled with an accurate QB (McCoy). Short passes were a lower risk than running plays, such that the Horns thought about their offense as "passing to run." Yesterday, it took GD a half to figure out that misdirection runs away from Gerald McCoy had the greater reward:risk ratio, and even then he "passed to run" twice on third and short, even though the Sooners had not changed their fundamental defense.


Greg Davis, er Edward Liddy (CEO of bailout villain corporation AIG), testifying to readers of BON, "It was the play that works most often on 3rd and 2!"

The problem with the investment approach for Texas is that, just like in the markets, the hot stocks or commodities are always changing. Internet stocks to real estate to gold. The successful investor anticipates declines in one market and rises in others. Getting back to football, GD is proud of the offense he created around Colt and two quick, sure-handed receivers in 2008, and he is slow to realize that defenses are catching up. Beginning with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech last year, with a few minor rebounds against slower defenses, the offense has increasingly struggled as teams are more and more willing to gamble that Colt isn't going deep with the ball, or that if he is, he'll throw it short or out of bounds. On the off chance he does, we'll take our pass interference penalty and move on. The risk is just too high to go for the "junk bond" of a deep post or a double move. The team now faces investing in the equivalent of gold: the running game, that tried and true commodity when the offense (read economy) has gone south. Given the running game's sketchy past performance, the board of Mack Brown, Inc. is feeling anxious.

Another problem with the investment approach is that it treats each down as independent. Each situation and anticipated defensive formation is measured against the likely reward to risk, regardless of what happened on the previous play or series of plays. So it doesn't matter whether you've run for 2 and passed for 7, or run for 4 and run for 5, the measure of potential success is the same. In a real game, there are all these ugly issues like momentum, the success or failure in individual matchups (like the colossal failure of Davis Snow against Gerald McCoy in Saturday's game), or local tendencies within a game that you can go against (such as passing when you've run in the same situation the previous 3 times). The investment approach avoids all these complicated contingencies and assumes that the offense can execute the play as long as the players can read the defense and adjust routes, blocking assignments, etc. accordingly.

Either as a bureaucrat, investor, or worse, bureaucratic investor, Greg Davis is capable of making strategic adjustments and changing offenses to fit his personnel. But he is not an aggressive manager, and his playcalling often seems unresponsive to short-term changes in game conditions. He places his faith in the long-term statistics of success or failure rather than a recognition of changes in the defense between series or sometimes between halves. Occasionally, we may see the Horns go "all in" for a high risk high reward play, such as setting up Shipley for his double move TD reception against Colorado. But otherwise, with Mack's conservatism as office furniture, GD is essentially the manager of a retirement account for a 65 year-old with no pension - the goal is an accrual of small rewards for presumably even smaller risks. The question is, how many more pick-sixes and near-pick-sixes do there have to be before GD realizes that it's time for investing in a new "market," like a QB-included running game with playaction passing to 3 outstanding deep targets.

Investment strategies in the Oklahoma game

So how does all of this help understand what has been happening to the offense in the game against the Sooners and in several previous games? It seemed clear from the start that Davis understood the need for misdirection in the running game, but it was never clear for the entire game that he understood that Oklahoma was going to take Shipley and the middle away EVERY TIME. Going with 5 WR on two separate 3rd and 1 plays, as PB pointed out in his post, left no doubt about what GD thought he could do, and how that did not match what the defense would let him do.

An Early Halloween for the Texas Offensive Line

When I was 14 and just dumb enough to be dangerous, my brother and I hid in the branches of our tree on Halloween and waited for little trick or treaters to pass by underneath, when we would then jump down screaming behind the poor kids and their parents (Yes I still feel guilty). That stunt set off some major running to mommy by a series of six year-olds. Well, David Snow and Kyle Hix did their best "run to mommy" imitation yesterday after being intimidated to near pants-peeing by the Sooner line shifting and blitzing. David Snow personally accounted for at least 2 false starts and 2 holding penalties. He was later benched for awhile in favor of the bad-ankled Michael Huey. The attitude of the right side of the line improved in the second half, and Texas began to put together significant drives. Yes, Snow is the least experienced of the starting offensive linemen, but it bothers me that fans call for the offensive line to "man up" every week.

Mack Brown has taken note, and inserted Tray Allen, who has never before been mentioned in association with the right guard spot, as the OR player for Missouri. Allen has shown fantastic speed and power while run-blocking late in games this year, and it will be interesting to see what happens when he gets significant early game snaps in place of the ankle-sprain-limited Huey.

The Real Deal

Every game features players bally-hooed by the press as "All-Americans" or "one of the best in the country" or some such. Let's just say this - Jeremy Beal and Gerald McCoy are the REAL DEAL. They were absolutely responsible for destroying many of the plays Texas ran, especially in the first half. Their energy levels went down a bit in the second half, and perhaps this more than anything explained the difference in Texas' success between halves. The tale of Beal and McCoy is worth exploring in more detail. Quite often during the game, OU would line up Beal (44) just outside the offensive tackle's shoulder and McCoy (93) would take the 3 gap (between guard and tackle), while the other Oklahoma DT, Adrian Taylor (86) lined up in the opposite 1 gap Gerald_mccoy_3-tech_medium

This defensive formation put McCoy one-on-one with a guard [David Snow (78)] and Beal one-on one with a tackle [Kyle Hix (64)]. Early in the game, McCoy and Beal beat Snow and Hix like a rug, leading to multiple QB pressures and tackles for loss. Note also how the area in front of Jordan Shipley (8) is saturated with defenders, while the area in front of Kirkendoll (11) and Chiles (7) is open, especially if Beal blitzes. Add blitzes by Reynolds (4) and/or Lewis (28), and mix in Kirk and Chiles not beating their men and voila - disaster in the short passing game.

Note also, however, that the OU defensive line is unbalanced and is vulnerable in front of the strong (TE) side of the offensive line, because Greg Smith (83) and Ulatoski(74) can initially double-team Auston English (33) and Tanner and Hall can initially double teamTaylor, after which Tanner attacks Travis Lewis (28) and Smith can engage  Keenan Clayton (22). This vulnerability was exploited on multiple running plays in the second half, as it also provides a cutback lane behind  Chris Hall's block if Taylor overplays to the outside.

While both teams used different variations of these formations, this basic alignment was in place the entire game, and explains most of what happened in the game. Oklahoma gambled that Texas wouldn't run misdirection plays enough and that Kirk and Chiles couldn't get open often enough to overcome the Sooners' advantage in man-to-man matchups along the defensive line. The first half - score one for Brent Venables: OU complete defensive domination. Second half - score one for Greg Davis, who finally realized that the Sooners were daring him to run. Without offensive line penalties, Texas was dominant offensively.

Extra Pass-Catching Surface Going forward, having Greg Smith in the game creates more gaps and better blocking angles for the other offensive linemen, even if Smith himself is not particularly dominant in his blocks. It helps both guards be involved in double teams immediately after the snap, which allows running plays to develop and for the running backs to have more holes to choose from. The issue, of course, as discussed at length yesterday by GhostofBigRoy, is whether Texas benefits by being able to run more consistently but having fewer passing options with Smith as opposed to having much better passing options with Buckner at flex tight end. As GBR pointed out, Buckner has looked more than a little lost in trying to make key blocks in runs out of the flex TE formation (with 3 other WR's). As noted several times on BON, Smith did catch both balls thrown to him, one in fairly tight coverage, and so he becomes a limited option in this TE drag play that was inspired by a similar play run by Miami in their victory over the Sooners.


The Horns'  version features a roll out by Colt to the right, featuring some sort of pattern by Chiles or Kirkendoll. Meanwhile on the backside of the play, Jordan Shipley runs a deep pattern to clear the cornerback, and the innocuous, lightly regarded Smith slips in front of the linebackers to the left flat, where he is so open that he has time to eat lunch. Texas ran this play twice against the highly aggressive, blitzing Sooners. Look for it again if the defensive team gets overly aggressive.

Tan is the Man I am flabbergasted at the play of Charlie Tanner. Throughout 2008 and early 2009, Tanner was easily the weakest offensive lineman. Every team targeted the 1 and 3 gaps around him with blitzes and stunts, leaving him grasping at air or just downright confused, and which flushed or rushed Colt all too often. In addition, he struggled with his timing in releases off the initial double teams (combination blocks) in the running game, and was called for holding multiple times in the first three games. So imagine my shock when I found that, in the OU game, Tanner did not allow a sack or tackle for loss, and wore out Travis Lewis like a sick mule. It also says a lot that OU targeted its isolation of Gerald McCoy on the right guard (Snow and Huey) Perhaps the light has come on for Mr. Tanner.


The Bosses - Is there any other way to describe the play of the defensive line than as "The Boss."



Yes, the Sheriff is in town, and his paymaster is named Will Muschamp. Featuring three former high school running backs (Houston, Kindle, and Jones) along with the African Express (Sam Acho) and some major Beef (Randall and Alexander), this defensive line is even better than last year. They don't have as many sacks as last year's line, but they play the run and the screen pass much better. This all translates into, "Don't be bringing that $#%%&& in here!" Other than the misplayed screen pass to Demarco Murray, Oklahoma got virtually all their yardage outside the hashmarks. That's domination. I need not say more, as PB provided an excellent overview of their play here.


  "Show Me" the Victory

As we fans release the last glow from the win over OU and edge into mild anxiety over Missouri, change is afoot. Will the Horns become a team based on running, or will the offense become more opportunistic and gauge whether the defense is gambling against tendency or sitting back and playing it safe? The pieces are available in the offensive and defensive lines to put things together, though the team will continue to struggle to find a consistent identity with the lack of a true TE with enough speed to make a safety pay attention. But it should be fun to watch, not knowing what you are going to get.