As we head downhill towards Rice

That was the catchphrase used by Greg Davis in describing the progress of the offense in fall camp if you watch his practice report at Mack's site. Despite that cheesy and not clearly positive result (you want downhill to be the catchword for your program? Smells like Tiberius choosing a successor that will make him look good), Mack is a true politician with buzzwords and media strategy.

Other than that humourous expression, catching my interest from the video was Greggy's intentional shout out to Mike Davis, his inclusion of said Davis with Goodwin and Chiles as the 3 guys working to be the slot receiver, and his statement that they have been under-center about 60% of the time in practice and had not yet installed the zone-read though they would eventually for limited use. Ode to Sisyphus I suppose.

You can see a guard pulling in the video but it looks a little more like the outside stretch than a power play, I'm down with it either way. Cody Johnson looks like a different person, they say he's lost 3-5% body fat. Vondrell McGee is missing, presumed captured. As someone who was thought to be a great potential benefactor of the Jack'n'Jill offense I wonder why he dropped the ball so hard this offseason. Then again I could see how these last few years would have taken their toll on his psyche.

My focus in this post though is to examine the previous falls of Greg Davis, that is to say, the previous fall camps. We're going to try and understand the man by attempting to view the offense from his eyes and see if we can reason through why he has done the things he has done...

2003:

Chris Simms had just graduated and it was not a presumed given that Vince Young would assume the starting role over Chance Mock...until the OU game settled it. My memory is hazy but I believe that just after Kirk Bohls predicted that physical and tough Nebraska was going to come into Austin and put the hurt on Texas Vince Young took over the new zone-read offense and they outrushed Nebraska 353-53 at 6.9 yards per carry. That would set the template for the rest of this post.

Of course it took that 65-13 drubbing at the hands of OU to make this move.

2004:

The zone-read was developed and complemented this year while Vince slowly grabbed a hold of the Greg Davis passing schemes. In the meantime they just took advantage of Bo Scaife/David Thomas and Cedric Benson and pounded the ball and made easy dump off passes to the tight ends or another big target in Limas Sweed. Also of note was further maturation by sophomores Justin Blalock, Studdard, and Sendlein.

2005:

By this point Vince had a good grip on many of the normal passing staples that Colt dominated with, a stable of good backs with game changing speed and an O-line 1 year better and upgraded at center from Jason Glynn to Sendlein.

2006:

This is where the controversy picks up so we'll settle here awhile. To support Colt, Texas had:

1). Veteran O-line with a freshman starter at left tackle in Ulatoski. Inside they were stacked with Blalock, Studdard and Sendlein all returning as seniors. Actually, Blalock started at RT and moved back inside with Dockery's season ending injury. Regardless, those 3 made noise early.

2). Guys like Quan Cosby and Nate Jones were getting established while Limas Sweed was a known commodity as an all-conference vertical threat. Jermichael Finley filled out the 11 personnel offense with ideal players at every spot.

3). Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles. Taylor was busted before the season started.

All that made for a logical case to continue the run-heavy, 11-personnel offense to support Colt and set him up to chuck it deep to Limas. Early on that looked promising and they did run for 200 yards on Ohio St. but the 3-step passing game with Colt and the occasional deep lob to Limas ended up being the story. They still ran for 2,000 yards at 4.4 per clip but couldn't find much running room against the more solid D's on the schedule.

With the available pieces it's safe to say that Greg may have under-thought the running game here, which will be a trend, and if Colt had sucked it would have resulted in a tremendous failure. Credit him though for quickly equipping the "baby-faced assassin" with a short-passing game that carried the day until he couldn't lift his arm.

2007:

This is a year that Davis takes a lot of heat for. The returning assets made the skill talent look better than it had for years. Most everyone was ready for Charles to handle the load while Sweed and Jermichael Finley were a year better, Cosby was endearing himself as a "possession receiver" and there was buzz about the emergence of the mythical white hope.

The line was...not very good. That trio that paved the way for Vince in the Rose Bowls was gone and replaced by Hall, Tanner, Dockery and Draddy Dallas Griffin. As far as zone-blocking goes they actually fit the bill in terms of being undersized and quick but they were also fairly weak at the point of attack. The shotgun 3-step game still ruled the day with the running game of Inside-zone/Counter.

If Greg though that the emergence of Charles in the same scheme, mixed with fantastic field-stretchers Sweed and Finley and sophomore Colt would cover up the running game deficiencies of the previous year he was...strangely vindicated.

Early on the Thunder package (a little gimmick where the bigger, more powerful younger linemen would block and Chiles would run the zone-read ad nauseam with McGee) was the only thing that heralded back to the running superiority of the Vince days until Nebraska came back into town. I remember watching that game in front of the Godzillatron more interested in impressing my future girlfriend than in taking stock of how Texas' lackluster offense was en route to another putrid home performance. Than McCoy was knocked out, again, and Chiles stepped in and demonstrated the effectiveness of the zone with a read while the counter remained a highly effective play for Charles and Texas was offensive again.

McCoy came back on the ensuing play and begin amassing his 678 yards on the season while Charles was finally free to total 1600 himself. So that was the offense from that point on and it bowled over the remaining competition. Except in College Station where 3rd down was a place where the Aggies gang-raped McCoy and took the ball and all my hope for a bowl victory.

In summary, he thought he had the pieces to continue the success found in 06 but Sweed's injury forced adaptation, like in 06, and that was back to the Vince-gameplan.

2008:

Another big development in 2007, besides the firm establishment of the zone as a useful option only when executed as an option, was in the Texas Tech game in Austin. Charles quickly racked up 174 yards on the traditionally slow and hapless Raider D and then was lost to an ankle injury.

The game was hardly over but McCoy kept the offense on the field with a 21-30, 268 yard masterpiece where he threw for 17 essential first downs and kept Akina's stupid 3 linebacker d off the field where they were transforming Harrell and Crabtree into Montana and Rice.

So, heading into the year you had:

1). An OL well accustomed to sort-of protecting Colt and blocking well enough for Charles to get loose.

2). 2 proven possession receivers in Quan and Shipley who had a lot of time with Colt in the shotgun offense.

3). Charles' replacement who looked good mainly when playing with Chiles in the 4rth quarter and as a short-yardage back, plus a great 3rd down back who added to the short zone-flooding options.

4). A tight end who was potentially as good as Finley and more frequently utilized.

Naturally Greg stuck with the same offense. Most of the fanbase was wondering whether Colt was really the man who could lead a team to the title in 2009 when the auspices indicated championship caliber defensive and offensive squads.

The portents for 08 were bad though, the running scheme that had failed with superior talent was being retained (minus as heavy usage of the counter as had been seen to that point) while Colt was assuming a position of such importance that the read element was deemed too risky save for in extreme circumstances (OU, bowl game). What running game existed was being handcuffed to support a quarterback no one had fully bought into.

The inevitable injury to a major player (turned out to be Irby) would leave the offense crippled as there was nothing left in a squad devoid of the talent seen in previous years to build adjustments around.

Wait, 4 wide? No 5 wide! Shipley is the tight end? It turned out to be a cast, perhaps lacking in the big play abilities of previous teams, that was perfectly suited to run Davis' preferred West Coast wizardry from spread sets with too many legitimate options for reeling Big 12 defenses to handle them.

2009:

Having tasted victory without a real running game the staff conspired to continue to build around the spread-west coast schemes that led to such brilliant success in 08. Reviewing again:

1). Colt McCoy. One of the best offensive players in the country who excels at throwing short-timed routes and on the run.

2). OL that has sort-of protected McCoy while throwing those routes the past 2 seasons and not really blocked for x-back.

3). WR skill talent with option no. 1, Shipley, back along with Collins as no. 2 and a plan for using big receivers like Buckner and Grant as flex ends in hopes of continuing to flood the field with possession receivers. Oops, no Collins or Ogbonnaya, well someone else will step up. Chiles at last will run amok like we envisioned after his awesome freshman spring game.

4). Inside zone, Newton/Whittaker/McGee/Johnson/Whittaker/Newton, whatever. We won't even need that crap.

When the early plan failed or had setbacks, as it has every year, the backup plan was to revert to the 11 personnel run-heavy offense that had been abandoned for the spread in 08, abandoned for more passing in 06, and executed in 07 with far better talent for the running aspects. This was, in fact, probably the worst talent for the 11 personnel offense of any season with Colt as quarterback. Furthermore, the running scheme had actually regressed from zone-read/counter to just zone (I know there was more variety with the speed option, outside zone, and draw and a few others but we didn't see those but once or twice a game). Worst in-season adjustment from Davis in any year we've examined.

So, 2010 we've got inexperienced talent everywhere but said talent is likely better at every position than any year prior. The coaches are trying to be "multiple" in offensive looks but I'm guessing they are hedging their bets to have 2 major options for the mid-season adjustments. Let's hope they drop the 11-personnel zone/counter that has frequently been the plan but never the answer and stick with under-center or the true spread for the future.

Or maybe those can go hand in hand, God knows it would be nice to have a multi-dimensional offense. Thoughts?

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