It is becoming increasingly evident that Greg Davis sat down this summer and had the following thought process,
Our running game is poor from the shotgun spread and it prevents us from executing short-yardage, punishing dishonest fronts, or drawing in defenders from deep coverage where they can sit back and pounce on our passing game until we make crippling errors.
His solution then went,
1). Run the ball more and with more variety, primarily featuring greater usage of Power to go along with zone, jet sweep, counter, and draw.
2). Play the quarterback under center more to give the running back a full head of steam approaching the line and limit negative plays in which the back is hit without momentum in the backfield.
3). Allow the linemen to stay in the 3-point stance to enable them to fire out.
That's basically all that has been done to tweak the offense for 2010 save for whatever they are saving for Oklahoma. The motion-oriented TE+TE/HB plays they borrowed from Boise have been nowhere to be seen, either they didn't produce much or they are being saved.
Other than that it's the same offense we've seen for the last 4 years. All of the play-action and running plays we've seen in 2010 existed for Colt but were de-emphasized in favor of the zone plays and the specific passing staples Colt excelled in.
Because of the ominous pass-blocking from this offensive line, Texas' struggles to pass protect for 40-50 snaps the last 3 years, and the fact that the returning strength in that unit is in power-blocking it made sense to Greg to consider playing to his line's strengths with a real running game.
Additionally, without considering the emergence of Mike D in the slot, the main strength of the WR Corp was in downfield running and screens. Combined with Gilbert's deep throw abilities and the lack of anything at RB worth scheming for a philosophy with heavier running made sense. Again though, there was no substantive overhaul of anything, simply Davis highlighting pages 24-50 of the same old playbook instead of 42-75.
Let's talk about the reality of the tools in Davis' utility belt this season:
Gilbert has been excellent to this point. Texas had only one failed drive against Wyoming you might lay at his feet and that drive began with Goodwin dropping a likely touchdown pass that hit him in the hands at full stride.
He doesn't have Colt's touch on the short-to-intermediate routes yet and he overthrows from time to time but he does have better overall accuracy, a command of the passing tree, perhaps as much elusiveness and certainly more pocket presence than Colt, and he has still avoided committing a turnover.
He's being eased into the system, which is arguably a misguided approach given that he'll likely have to win games soon, but he has demonstrated a lot so far to be excited about.
Tre Newton simply doesn't offer a lot at this level of play. His stiff arm of an unbalanced Wyoming tackle was one of the bright spots in his career but overall he simply lacks the kind of explosion we saw when Goodwin turned a negative play (the reverse) into a big gain or when Fozzy accelerated 3 times in bursting through to the end zone late in the 2nd quarter.
Part of what plagues the Texas system is that the zone, when blocked poorly, has generated a lot of 2nd and 9 scenarios while at best only offering a 2nd and 7 when blocked well. A big part of that is on the back.
Tre Newton is like a Cedric Benson without the extra 3. Benson could find the hole or a crease and then always drag defenders for a few extra yards at the end of every run. Newton finds the creases, but takes a hit after 2 or 3 yards and is dragged down there and then.
I still haven't seen Fozzy asked to run Power but his vision in the zone in the 3rd quarter was superior and his acceleration through the creases makes running the ball a far more worthwhile venture. If there is never any risk of your running game breaking "explosives" it won't sustain 80 yard drives and it won't change the tactics of the defense in a way that will open up the rest of the offense. Fozzy can offer that.
He (Fozzy) made consecutive backside cuts in the 3rd quarter behind some mauling Hix blocks that went for 9 and 7 yards respectively. His first play of the game was the counter that knocked over Rice and it went for his touchdown run. Watch the reaction of the backside defenders of Wyoming when Walters and Mitchell arrive for the lead blocks, much like your body language before realizing you are about to drop your friend's big screen TV down the steps of the apartment complex.
Naturally Davis called the same counter again for the next two plays with Fozzy in and it was stuffed, but later zone calls demonstrated more of the bear's finer qualities. Winnebago Whittaker also offers the most in the passing game.
Cody's vision is not excellent in the zone and he excels primarily when simply asked to bulldoze through holes blown open by Mason Walters in Power. He has excellent situational value in that role and in short-yardage, Fozzy should be your starter and Newton merely a backup. I want to avoid arguing for a different back each week and perpetuating this terrible cycle but Texas needs someone to be the starter week to week who can handle the various tasks of the offense, excel where the line is strong, and make something big happen when the opportunities come.
Barrett Matthews needs to be involved in the passing game to justify his place on the field because his run-blocking has not been impressive to this point. In the only attempt by the offense to run the pin'n'pull stretch I recommended in "eyes of Texas" (if you haven't read it check the article after Lord Wadlington's) Matthews struggles to sustain his block on the end and in Counter attempt no. 2 he allowed the backside end to blow up the play from behind after Greg Smith sneakily replaced his cleats with roller skates.
Mike D has the same kind of route-running and directional-shifting quickness that made Shipley unstoppable in this scheme. If Texas reverts more and more back to the spread he is the brightest hope and a possible nightmare if paired in that role with Jaxon Shipley in the future.
Kirkendoll and Chiles are very solid 3rd options while Goodwin is one of the most dangerous players in the Big 12 if utilized well. You can expect to see Malcolm as at least a favored 3rd down target if he doesn't make the leap to downfield destroyer, his overall physicality is refreshing from that position.
Ditto on Scipio's point about aimless wandering by the pulling guard on Power, although I would argue that hesitation has been much more common from Huey than Walters who has demonstrated a love and willingness for finding people to pancake.
Huey offers strong pass-protection and very strong double-teaming and mauling blocks combined with poor reach blocks and a general lack of motion in the open field. Good thing the zone is still the featured play. He excels in tight quarters but not as much when he needs to find someone to put a hat on.
Snow is very solid in the middle, roughly between Sendlein and Chris Hall at this stage with a chance to match the former. You'll see him hold his ground well enough in the zone, which is essentially all you can ask for from the guy who has to reach the play-side tackle for the run to have any chance at all. The fact that we've seen Gilbert be able to step up in the pocket has been indicative of the quality of the interior OL in pass protection.
Mitchel is meh (I don't look forward to his matchup with Beal) and Walters might be the all-around most talented lineman on the field. He blows guys off the ball in man-blocking and pulls like a champion. You'd love to see his footwork and overall pass-protection skills on the edge first but it would seem that he has the athleticism to excel at Left Tackle.
Meanwhile, Kyle Hix is holding down the fort there far more admirably than I had expected. We'll learn more from his upcoming battles with Brian Duncan and the OU crew but against Owl and Cowboy pass-rushers he was barely tested. The 3rd false start penalty is something the offense can't afford but besides that early season mental-miscue he has been an absolute force in the running game while at least matching what you would have expected from Ulatoski to this point.
Buchanan is listed as the back-up after Poehlmann's injury. He's 6'6" 300 and was supposed to be one of the quicker-footed zone guys brought in so that's relatively encouraging but I've never watched him play important football. On the other hand it's no worse than light Poehlmann backing up Ulatoski for all of last season.
Go ahead and pencil in Hix as your number 3 most indispensable Longhorn this season behind Gilbert and Randall.
The play-calling has been very curious at times to the point that you can script Davis in his process up in the booth, "alright let's try this for a while...interesting...ooh...ugh. Okay let's try this guy doing this...and if I do the exact same thing?...Yes...Yes I see...oh hey! Let's send in Monroe..."
His approach for Rice was to run early and often while against Wyoming they typically initiated drives with the passing game before coming back to the run after crossing midfield. There has been little imagination exhibited to this point, unless he's saving an entire formation or play series for the Sooners, and merely some basic tweaks to try and make his overall system work.
Those that call for the abandonment of the running game in favor of returning to the spread are missing the point, it's still the same offense. Success in this system will always come from execution and the occasional explosive impact of a difference maker like Mike D, those desiring to see an offense that is coordinated to manufacture opportunities will be disappointed like in every other season.
From receiver to receiver, back to back, and lineman to lineman there is no over-arching strength that has manifested itself into an identity. I'm not saying such a thing is impossible with the available talent, merely that this won't be achieved through the coordination of scheme and play-calling. The hope is in some consistency in excellence from Mike D and the other skill players combined with mastery of the system by Gilbert. At least the latter we know Greg can teach.