When reading Scipio's write-up on impact freshman on offense and his bleak thoughts regarding the quality of the 2010-11 offense I was reminded of one of the fundamental flaws in the Texas machine and the Greg Davis' plan over much of the last decade.
No offensive system.
For instance, the 2008-09 offense had 2 basic attacks. The spread-west coast short game with Colt hitting Quan or Shipley over and over again on timing routes over the middle and the 11 personnel zone-running game/play-action offense that yielded a few play-action screen passes and was toothless beyond that.
There was no connection between the success of the spread game and the running game as they were different pieces of offense mixed together in one incoherent package. If the short timing routes were working this still had virtually no impact on the running game which would still flounder. Should the running game be successful it might have opened up the play-action game (we can only guess since this didn't happen) but it still wouldn't have really opened much more in the short-passing game.
Take the OU/Nebraska games. They dropped back to take on the Shipley-focused 2-man routes and other timing plays and Texas had absolutely nothing in the regular arsenal with which to punish them for loading up against it.
Davis and Mack should have picked one system (clearly the short-passing game) and then re-adapted the other components of the playbook to compliment what was working.
They didn't and perhaps the most irritating failure of the Colt McCoy offense was the lack of a running back draw play and the infrequent use of jailbreak RB/WR screens to punish the inevitable blitzing that occurred against the 4 and 5 wide offenses. If linebackers are dropping back and anticipating routes or blitzing heavily the obvious solution is to punish them with a draw, screen or pump-fake to double moves.
Instead Texas stuck with with an inside-zone based running game, with no intention of actually using the essential quarterback read, and complimented it with a speed-option play Colt didn't understand, some jet plays, and infrequent use of the outside zone and counter.
They never adapted the running game to do what it really needed to do, to act as a constraint for the short passing game. We didn't see nearly enough pump-fakes either for my liking and can recall most readily the ones that failed (Kirkendoll? drops against Nebraska, Gilbert just misses to Shipley against Alabama).
A strong offensive system should be built on a few features which that team can perform really well, and then complimentary plays that will make stopping the main feature even more difficult. Take your Zac Robinson Oklahoma St. Cowboys in 2008.
They were built around the inside-zone (with Zac as a keep threat), the outside-zone, and a well-executed speed option (if they had other base running plays you'll have to clue me in). This was what the offense excelled at, having Pettigrew as a snow-plow, the magnificent Russell Okung, and then a cast of experienced and athletic O-linemen who had the lateral quickness to execute zone-blocking.
After that the offense was built around features to make stopping the run difficult. A large variety of screen passes to backs and receivers to punish the defense on the perimeter mixed in with an occasional deep lob to the ever-dangerous Dez Bryant.
It only made sense to key on the run but everything else in the offense made that a tall order.
Well all that's mercifully over now and it looks like the new offense just might be past that key strategic flaw. In the spring game we saw Texas receivers running downfield without stopping in a crease for the awaited throw. This is promising because I'm not sure Gilbert has receivers that will excel in that capacity like Shipley or Quan, but instead guys like Williams and Chiles that need to be hit on the run to do their damage.
Now to rehash my Eyes of Texas article, what Texas has as assets are downfield receiving threats, powerful lineman and a quarterback who can make throws downfield. It all adds up for a coherent system of power-running mixed in with a healthy dose of play-action, screens, and throws at the sideline to make defenses pay for congregating in the middle of the field.
The risk, of course, is that if an opposing team can stop the no. 1 feature without exposing themselves to the constraint plays you are in a world of trouble and many (Scipio) are forecasting that very event with the result of Texas being forced back into the spread with Gilbert protected by Hix and Mitchell and no Shipley safety valve. Well what else are they going to do then? Begin the season from the shotgun and concede the point?
I appreciate the fear but I'm excited to see an offense that is at last built on one premise. We haven't seen that in Austin save for 1998, 2004-06, and in ChrisApplewhite's dots.
For all the criticisms Greg Davis receives his failure to do this consistently before now is one of the rare, and of course major, legitimate ones.
In the further spirit of criticism I offer to you the Football Outsider's top 100 college football teams of the last 100 years. Actually I've only linked part 1, part II is out but something like 50 teams still have yet to be unveiled.
Allow me to call attention to the no. 92 team of the last 100 years, your 2005 Texas Longhorns.
If I may remind you this is not a list of the greatest football teams of all time but the greatest college teams. They aren't being ranked behind the 1974 Dallas Cowboys they are being ranked behind the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide and an untold number of teams with 215 pound guards running the T or single wing.
Their rating is based on point differential compared to the expectation given the schedule played, plus strength of schedule. The top teams must have pounded everyone by greater margins than only a good team might while doing so against a difficult slate of foes.
It's objective, at least, and it's good for the great teams of yesteryear that can't fairly be compared to modern squads. It's also dead wrong. The 2005 Texas Longhorns were a winning machine that are punished almost entirely for beating the hell out of weak teams. Their point differential against their schedule is massive but because of the scarcity of good teams besides USC and Ohio State Texas had the opportunity to pummel they are ranked near the bottom.
Were it possible to do so I would bet all the student loans I owe that 2005 Texas would defeat virtually every team ranked ahead of it and certainly the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide. They may have struggled some with a power running game against USC but you wouldn't see missed tackles from that secondary against Ingram and Richardson on the edge like you did with Gideon and the Browns. Besides Huff and Mi. Griffin, Aaron Ross, Brown, and C. Griffin were also punishing tacklers in their own right.
On the other side you have Alabama brute strength trying to tackle Vince Young and co. on the edge. I like no. 10's chances.
And I have yet even more weak ratings for you in David Ubben's completed top 25 Big 12 players. Here he is seen vainly attempting to defend it like a Pequot with a bow watching his longhouse burn to the ground...
The flaw, as it always is with these ratings, is that it is based entirely on what we've seen from starters in 2009. Sam Acho hadn't shown a great deal on the field before last year but anyone who had seen him in practice or limited time was unsurprised when he had one of the finest seasons of any DE in the league. However, this list (done by Griffin then and expanded to 40 players) wasn't even sniffed by our current favorite Nigerian.
In a game where no one is eligible for more than 4 years of play if you don't anticipate first-year success you aren't going to have predictions that amount to a gastro-intestinal black liquid crap on a Thayer Evans keyboard. You'll likely have something far less great that that, in fact.
Notable misjustices include Blake Gideon being ranked ahead of the entire Texas front seven excepting Acho ocho uno, Gilbert's absence when he is a lock to be the best offensive player on likely the best team, and probably similar misconceptions about the best players on every other team. You really couldn't go out on a limb and predict Gilbert as a better player than Landry Jones or Blaine Gabbert?
Also of note is his insistence of DeMarco Murray's superiority over Kendall Hunter along with the claim that no one else "amongst the best backs in the league" can "truck a defender" in the Big 12 like Murray. Interesting. I like that qualifier that protects Murray from comparison to a situational back like Cody Johnson who has 24 touchdowns in 2 seasons, or any other big back in a pass-heavy league. Much like calling Greg Smith the most punishing blocker amongst tight ends with the last name Smith. Big praise. He also makes the case for Murray by mentioning his superior health over Kendall Hunter's who has to "earn it back" after missing much of 2009.
Putting aside the ridiculous notion of lauding Murray for consistent health, the comment about earning it really encapsulates the flaw of this list and the others like it done by national pundits. It's all about awarding what has been done rather than projecting real future results.
That's why these clowns criticize coaches for going for it on fourth down, basketball stars for taking all the late shots, and managers for failing to pull out exhausted starters (screw you Grady Little) it's all about playing it safe with what has always been perceived to be true. You people voted for Hubert Humphrey, and you killed Jesus!
If you don't remember my world cup preview I'll remind you that I was exactly wrong in projecting the champion (I picked Brazil) and focused only on the potential flaws of the spaniards and some worthless rambling about the dutch.
I hate cliches like "the best defense is a good offense" or however you want to phrase it but La Furia Roja's defensive success stems largely the inability of any of their foes to end their possessions. The tactic popularized by the US and attempted successfully by the Swiss and unsuccessfully by the Germans of packing in the middle and denying the wings forces Spain into taking their sweet time to get a score but it lacks as a defensive strategy compared to what the Spaniards are able to do, which is dominate at midfield and deny scoring chances.
It takes a serious discipline and a remarkable ability to absolutely finish around the net to play that style against Villa and co. right now and it leaves a much smaller margin of era than what you are allowing Spain to attempt. However, since no one has a midfield like Spain's I don't know what the other options are.
Their roster strategy of employing huge chunks of Real Madrid and Barcelona (enabled by those Clubs' great talent) on their side gives them a chemistry and execution advantage beyond anything the rest of the International teams can field.
If anyone can score the necessary goals it's the highly skilled Dutch but I feel I've seen too much weakness in the orange defense to survive a game like Germany just played where Spain bides the time and is content to win 1-0.
Thoughts on that or anything else?