Terrance Williams. Tavon Austin. Stedman Bailey. Kenny Stills. Eric Ward.
There are a host of playmaking wide receivers in the Big 12 in 2012, as in most years, but none of them can match Texas Longhorns junior wide receiver Mike Davis in yards per catch.
After hauling in four catches for 165 and the first multi-touchdown game of his career against Texas Tech on Saturday, no wide receiver in the conference can best the 19.1 per-catch average for the man known as Magic Mike (though the classification of Oklahoma State's Blake Jackson as a tight end could be up for debate).
All of those big plays the magic man is racking up aren't just notable from a conference-wide perspective, they're also notable from the national perspective -- only 14 pass-catchers in the country are averaging more yards per catch than Davis, including tight ends. Of those players, only five have more than 25 catches on the season.
Take out the tight ends and the players from conferences that don't automatically qualify for the BCS and Davis is among the elite at his position in producing big yardage every time he touches the ball.
On Saturday, Davis was the beneficiary of the Texas running game -- most opponents this season have schemed to take away the run, often putting one or more extra players in or near the box. Another way to deal with the run is to instruct the safeties to come downhill fast and hard if they get a run read, part of the Red Raider strategy on the day.
Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said on Monday that a big part of the gameplan was to call some plays to get vertical in the passing game, even outside of the "shot zone" where most coordinators like to dial up such throws to avoid the compressed field in the redzone:
I think in this game that's pretty much what we said -- we're going to take those shots. We had those built into our opening calls. Based off of we had played them in the past, different coordinator, but we had played against them so our chance to look at our game and what we had done and what they were looking at. We felt like we had some opportunities in what we had done in previous games to set some of those throws up and we did. Just to have some opportunities to take some throws down the field.
On the first long pass to Davis, the Longhorns came out in a typical running formation with only two wide receivers on the field, drawing a look with only one deep safety for Texas Tech. The play-action fake drew the safety in four or five steps, almost the linebacker level, while the vertical stem from Davis forced the cornerback to turn and run with him just as he cut inside on the post and created the needed separation. A subtle little feint outside just before hitting the move inside helped get that cornerback turned.
Call it lost in transition for the cornerback.
The first touchdown pass to Davis came on a play that used senior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin as a decoy faking the jet sweep. In man coverage, the look brought one defensive back across the formation to account for Goodwin and froze the single deep safety. It was the same route from Davis and the cornerback again got turned by a wide step from Davis before he crossed the face of the Tech defender and was off to the races.
(The three big catches for Davis lead the highlights)
Seems as if his parents were prescient when they gave him the middle name of Magic.
Harsin certainly sees it in him:
I see Magic in him. I can say that. I see Magic in him.
More than just Magic, though, what Harsin sees are ball skills:
One thing Mike has done this year, we've thrown him some balls that he's gone up and gotten. That one David threw there the last touchdown pass was one that Mike continued on his route. The DB played it well and was in position, and he had to throw it deeper in the right spot. He had to throw it a little bit deeper where only Mike could get it. Mike went up and got it, and high pointed it.
A noted basketball player who nearly decided to quit football in the offseason to pursue his first love, Davis is putting those basketball skills to good use on the football field, according to the Texas offensive playcaller:
I think that's something [wide receivers] Coach [Darrell] Wyatt is always talking about with those wide receivers. We're going to give you an opportunity on the throw, and that's what we tell the quarterbacks, give them a chance. That means put it on them. When we do that, your ball skills take over. It's much like basketball, going up, getting the ball. That's what it is. You see he's got great body control and an awareness to go up and do that. He's shown it in several games. But those attributes from playing basketball and things like that, it does show up in other sports like football and what he's doing at wide receiver and the way he's playing right now.
Junior cornerback Carrington Byndom, who goes against Davis every day in practice but couldn't say who usual wins the battles, was asked if Davis reminds him of any other receivers:
He reminds me of Mike Davis. I won't classify him with anybody else. He is him. But I definitely think he's coming into his own. He's doing really great this season, and we look forward to him continuing to keep that up.
Guess that makes Davis one of a kind.
For Harsin, there's not much mystery surrounding how Davis is getting it done:
He's playing at a very high level. We want him to continue to do that. He's done that because he's worked hard. He's done that because he's prepared hard and his mind has been right. If he continues to do that, then hopefully we see the same things in the future games.
Ash also sees the improvement from his favorite deep target as something earned through hard work:
With Mike, it's the same thing. He's worked hard this offseason. He practices well. He practices hard. He loves playing football. He's a fun guy to be around. Again, it's work ethic, and he's going to put in the work for the season. I think he's just probably gained a little more understanding of it's more important to just be a reliable catcher than it is necessarily to catch a ball and make a bunch of plays - but just to be reliable.
So, what does Davis say to Ash when the bright lights come on?
Demanding the football is something that virtually every wide receiver does. What is putting the Magic in Magic Mike Davis is his ability to turn those targets into big plays, which Davis does better than almost every other wide receiver in the country.