Up until the latter half of 2004, I was a pessimist. Our teams never showed direction, our players never developed, and any team with good coaching seems to negate our talent advantages with ease. It peaked with the Washington St. Holiday Bowl, a game that should've ended Greg Davis' career. It remains, to this day, the worst coached football game I've ever seen. It was just a clinic on getting schooled.
Then we fired Tim Nunez, and Carl Reese "retired." Legend has it we would've canned Davis, too, but Mack doesn't want to change both coordinators at the same time. He's still around so I doubt very much the veracity of that rumor, but it was prevalent at the time.
2004 started auspiciously, with a clobbering of North Texas and a hard fought victory over Arkansas. The UA game in particular was impressive because we did two things that were total rarities up to that point, we ran for first downs on 3rd and 4 and we came up with two huge defensive plays to ice the game.
Our offense went south against OU, we struggled against Missouri, and then the turning point for the program came against Tech. Vince Young famously told Mack and Davis to let him be himself on the field, and we took off. At that point, My mindset changed. We had three amazing comeback victories against OSU, Kansas, and Michigan in the Rose Bowl. In all three, we saw the power that Vince had.
But it was more than just Vince. Our defense was finally tackling, and flying to the ball. We weren't advertising our plays, both offensively and defensively, which made teams actually have to work to stop us, and few did. Outside of Eric Hall, everybody on defense started living up to their potential and playing well.
It happened on offense, too. Our OL turned into dominators. We started utilizing the TE. 3 star recruits were being developed into really good college players. Our scheme was essentially Davis proof, since every play was misdirection, and any bad pass play could be turned into a first down by Vince. In '04-'05, seemingly every problem we had was eliminated.
Throughout our uneven '06 season, I kept my optimism. We had good coaches everywhere (outside the obvious), and even though we'd have to rebuild around Colt, we still put together some impressive wins.
There were warning signs. We had a 19 year old white kid with 4.8 speed in Vince's offense. Colt, at that point, could not break a pencil, much less a tackle from a Big 12 LB. I saw this faulty equation after about 5 minutes of the spring game. While I am a supernatural genius, it did not take my cosmic gifts to see the ill fitting block we were trying to hammer into a 6'5 230 hole.
Our solution was even worse, just eliminate all the QB run options. This left us with two running plays: a zone and a counter, and as I've detailed before, this is a combination that doesn't work on it's own. Our neutered offense sputtered to the finish line, barely eking out a win against a mediocre Iowa team that we should have been able to pummel.
Our defense was an even bigger mess. 3 NFL players in your secondary should not equal a triple digit rank in pass defense, under any circumstance. Two of them were first rounders, and one won the Thorpe Award! Even though every team on earth figured out how to beat OU, we did the same thing they do, but with even less variety, and not surprisingly made the same mistakes. I don't care how good you are, you can't cover your guy with no deep help and try to stop the run at the same time. Eventually, you'll get fooled.
For some reason going into '07, I was optimistic again. I figured that Greg Davis learned from his mistake in '06 and Duane Akina certainly wouldn't run the same scheme with decidedly worse players. On top of that, I figured he would, you know, play the guys who were twice as good as the guy in front of them. I turned out to be wrong on all three accounts. Our running game was better, thanks to Jamaal Charles and a lucky injury to Colt McCoy that resulted in us having to go back to the zone read against NU. However our OL took another step back, our only deep threat got hurt, and Colt, either because of coverage, pressure, or his own Pavlovian response to those two, had to scramble on about 70% of our passing plays. Just an ungodly amount of scrambling.
What made the season frustrating, to me, is that we had so much more potential that what we showed, and we held back, seemingly on purpose. Our best rushing day (not by yardage gained, but by plays called) was against OU, surprisingly. We were unpredictable, running many draws and counters. We showed a lot of variety and misdirection, and the results bear it out. Then we never saw any of it again. I think we may have run that nifty sprint out counter more times against OU than we did the rest of the season. We didn't see the draw, probably our best called running play, in any heavy capacity until ASU.
Every week we would have a new wrinkle. Against A&M we pulled a guy on our normal zone runs to lead Charles, for instance, something we hadn't done at all up to that point, and didn't do at all, I think, against ASU. We obviously have that playcall, and practiced it. Why aren't we seeing the entire package every week? It boggles the mind.
The maddening thing about the defense is obvious to everyone who watched us, we weren't playing our best players. Excuses abound, naturally. The backup LBs didn't know the coverages! Calamity ensues! Of course, Robert Killebrew knew exactly where to stand and still couldn't cover anybody anyway. Why not play the backups and let them learn? They are going to have to at some point anyway, right? Would you rather play Kindle, who will mess up half the time and make a play half the time (and has immense potential to improve), or Killebrew, who will never make a play? Yes, Robert bled for the program, but so did the walkons, who bled even more, considering they were being charged to be there. Why not play them, if that is your criteria?
I understand that Kindle was suspended/hurt/a knucklehead, but the point remains. We have options. Drew Kelson made plays, and as evidenced by our Pro Day, is a killer athlete. We buried him at safety, even though we never played him because he can't cover. Allegedly he asked to be moved back, but even if that were true, tell his ass that if he wants playing time he'll go back to LB and shut up.
So even after this disaster, I'm optimistic about the upcoming season, while the fan base isn't. You guys have scoreboard right now, so I'm not going to taunt you or anything. Hell I was with you up until we beat the snot out of ASU. The preparations for that game, the game itself, and the subsequent hires and practices have sold me on the current squad.
Mack should've learned a valuable lesson in 2004. Tomey and Robinson brought reform to a broken system, instituting toughness and accountability. We tackled in practice, so we tackled in games. Somewhere along the way, even though it led to Mack's biggest coaching successes, these lessons were lost. We brought it all back for the Holiday Bowl and stuck it to a very good team. Guys who had talent, like Brandon Foster, finally showed it. We made ASU earn every yard they got (minus the Chris Jesse TD) and obliterated a solid defense with an offense built on a single capable playmaker.
Following that rousing success, Mack made a change that frankly, I didn't think he was capable of making. He demoted Duane Akina and hired Will Muschamp. More importantly, we've kept the same attitude in practice that has served us so well in the past. Beasley and Muck excepted, our young guys didn't get enough playing time last year, so this year will have growing pains. I promise you still, dear reader, that we will be miles better on defense. We are thin almost everywhere, but our starters are as good as they come. Roy Miller is destructive inside, Orakpo outside, we have three really good LBs if they can all stay healthy, and our secondary is almost as talented as the '05 iteration. If someone steps up and replaces Ryan Palmer, I would put our talent with that '05 group. '05 performance might not come for another year or so, but the talent is back.
Offensively I'm still skeptical, though we did show some promising stuff in the spring. Our run game was varied, the RBs showed enough to satisfy me, our receivers looked good, and our OL as a whole performed very well.
Harris is still buried on the depth chart, even though he's much better than Chiles and probably would deliver equal, if not better results than Colt does. We need to replace a few guys on the starting OL, I think. Michael Huey and Aundre McGaskey are too good to keep on the bench. We still need a playmaker to step up, too. Right now it has to be Colt, and I honestly don't know if he has it in him.
The real problems, of course, lie upstairs. I'm hopeful that Major Applewhite can offset some of the idiocy, but all I'm hoping for is an offense that doesn't needlessly limit us. We don't need Urban Meyer here, we just need someone who can let the players do their thing without any unnecessary hindrance. Our OL and veteran receivers should give us a bigger margin of error than last year. We'll be better for sure, but by how much? I think Shipley's resurgence, the OL's potential improvement, and, hopefully, another year of maturity from Colt will lead to an offense than is good enough to run the table. Consistency will always be an issue with any Greg Davis led unit, but I think we'll finally have a defense than can keep us in the game should anything go awry.
Maybe not, but this is what I dream at night to keep me from crying into my pillow. Honestly, I choose to put stock in the promising spring game and the Golden Boy because spending another spring/summer dreading the football season is just too fucking depressing.
On a scale from 1-10, 1 equaling the expectation that we will suck so hard that the universe will implode into a singularity on what used to be DKR Memorial Stadium, and 10 being so optimistic so as to make echeese look like the leader of a doomsday cult, where are you?