There are two kinds of football plays. Some that happen, and some that are made.
If you rely on plays happening, then you'll lose to any team that can put up a decent fight, especially if your coach is subpar.
Here is what I mean.
A 6 yard hitch is a useful football play, but it's high school stuff. If a corner is playing 12 yards off, then just about any moderately athletic 16 year old could run that route and catch that ball. Defenses will mostly let you do it because eventually you'll bounce a pass, or the WR will drop it, and now you have a 3rd and 4 and anything can happen.
It is easy to beat single coverage if the two men involved are of roughly the same athletic talent and skill. This is why the spread offenses work. They make you cover every player and every gap and make it a game of one on one, which any well coached offense will win. When the players are slower, the field becomes bigger, and high school and lower level college teams explode offensively.
Don't be impressed be the WR who can beat a CB on a slant for 8 yards. That's nothing. It's mostly the QB and the defensive call that will determine that success.
A good defense will gang up on any real threat, leaving man to man situations underneath where they won't do much harm. This is why the "explosive plays" as we've come to know and love every Monday press conference are so important -- because they are the single most valuable thing an offense can achieve outside of scoring the football. They are valuable because they are rare, and they are rare (for us) because we play good teams.
In order to score against those good teams, you need playmakers.
A playmaker, or as the Germans call it: D'yermaker, is not necessarily the guy ripping off 50 yard gains every other play. All he needs to to is open up avenues for other players to succeed. If a RB can't run against an 8 man front, but allows the passing game to set records thanks to a field full of one on one matchups, then he made that happen. If he can run against 8 man fronts then all the better.
The question we at The Award Winning The Barking Carnival have is:
Who will be our playmakers?
Nobody knows. It's a risky thing to prognosticate this early. But you better be damn sure we're not afraid to trot out some percentages like they mean anything.
He is so good he doesn't even get a percentage. He is a lock to be fantastic. People forget about him but he has monster talent and finally looked quick again in the spring. Nobody on the squad has his quickness and body control, and only Brandon Collins and maybe Quan Cosby are even in the ballpark as far as hands go.
It's not a stretch to say that no one defensive player will be able to cover Shipley one on one this season. Most modern defenses are in some form of a cover 2 shell, though, which makes it easy to double cover both outside receivers. Even with one good WR it's not enough to really stress the defense specifically designed to clamp down on the WR.
The real question is: Who is that other threat?
Brandon Collins - 40%
One of two Barking Carnival Wunderkinds© that is almost a carbon copy of Shipley, only perhaps not as quick. Still, it's not a great position to be in to have to rely on freshmen, no matter how good they are.
There isn't much doubt that he'll be good, and soon. He always seemed like that guy you don't expect to be good, then suddenly he's in the endzone twice and torching some poor nickelback. If he can be effective against a pass oriented defense, then we'll be in a great place, you just never know with young players when it'll all come together. Man up drills in practice are one thing, live action is another.
The other problem he'll have is the same problem Shipley will have; they're both slot receivers. Give them room and they're unstoppable. Put a physical corner on them who can disrupt them and use the sideline, they decline because neither one is all that big or strong.
We have two slot receivers and one slot position, so someone will have to play out there. Shipley has the savvy to deal with it, most likely, so he'll be the guy with a lot to prove.
Malcolm Williams - 30%
Same deal as above, but a much higher ceiling. If Brandon Collins is the dylithium crystal that drives this starship, then Williams is the warp drive that takes us to new places in a big hurry. Consistency is the key with players like this, and Williams hasn't proven anything on that front. There isn't another guy on the team as capable of splitting some safeties and taking it to the house like Jerry Rice used to do, or out-jumping a corner for a 25 yard fade. It is in our best interest to get him on the field as early and as often as possible.
He won't be a reliable source of yardage this season. He can deliver at times, but if you are asking him to do it against OU in the span of 30 snaps you'll likely end up disappointed. Stick him in every other drive and if he delivers, great. If not, let him grow and give him time.
Dan Buckner - 10%
He's going to be good. Is he going to be good so soon? I don't think so. He looked confused in the spring, and the football player hasn't quite caught up to the talent yet. If he plays then it might even out, but of all our young guys he's probably the longest shot of anyone with a remote chance of being the man.
There are six guys I'd put ahead of him right now, so if he plays he won't have many chances to prove himself. How he steps up in this role will be a good indicator of someone who can come alive when we need him to, since the attitude of "OK, I need to make a play here," is all but identical.
Vondrell McGee - 40%
Just how good is McGee? Dunno. But he is at least exactly as good as we need him to be. Teams have fallen into the habit of playing us with 7 man fronts and just letting us run ourselves into 3rd and longs because we can't do anything about it. Jamaal Charles was a special talent, but McGee might be a better fit. He is the classic low, strong, picker that will conjure 5 yards out of thin air. He isn't the big play threat Jamaal Charles was (not many are), but the real key to this season will be how well he can adapt to being the man and gaining consistent yardage against defenses that won't be geared to stop him.
Greg Davis makes this especially crucial because he lacks whatever brain synapse it is that allows him pattern recognition. So even if we are running well, we are still going to throw it because that's what he decided on Tuesday that they would do. McGee won't have 35 chances to gain 4 yards a pop, he'll likely have 15-20 to gain 5.
With a team full of WRs that can beat one CB but not two, the running game will be where we'll have to force our single coverage.
Fozzy Whitaker - 150%
Wonderkind© 2. He will be a star for us on some level. I better stop talking before my chair soaks through.
Curtis Brown/John Chiles -5%
The wildcards. Brown is a beast and needs to see the field someplace. The longer he sits, the longer it'll take for him to become relevant. Chiles is athletic but there is more to the WR position than being athletic. Just ask David Aaron.
They need to be included, just out of intellectual honesty, but neither will likely make a huge contribution. At least not at WR. If Brown actually plays on offense then I'd give him the edge.
The OL - 70%
What better way to beat seven man fronts than to block them? Vondrell McGee may be a downgrade at RB but he can perform like an upgrade if the OL improves. The reason they are only at 70% is because we still don't know who is going to start. If it's Hall/Tanner/Ulatoski then we're probably going to see a lot of the same ineffectiveness as last year. Putting the best 5 guys on the field will lead to the type of running game that can free our WRs and give us the kind of run game that can keep us out of 3rd and longs, typically the death knell for a Greg Davis offense. I don't know who will start, thus the 70%.
It's not as sexy as having a Roy Williams or Vince Young do all the work for you, but nobody really seems to talk about the OL's role in this year's offense. How much better are we if Colt isn't scrambling every other play last year? Or if Jamaal Charles doesn't have to just run around everybody five times a game so we can score? The best front we can put out there will be the type of group that can change the game.
We're not going to be a team with electric talent that pulls through game after game. The team will have to be a lot like Kansas to succeed, a team full of good players doing their jobs while playing excellent defense. Now I'm going to go gouge my eyeballs out because I just said Texas needs to be more like Kansas.