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Strategic Incompetence

How many offenses have the Wide Receiver stand still and wait for the ball at the LOS on a corner blitz? Two, Texas and UCLA.

UCLA did the same thing on an Aaron Williams blitz and saw the same result, their receiver being lit up (by Vaccaro) for no gain. I'm not saying that's the right scheme there, it's the "risk-averse" scheme that will inevitably result in more mistakes when the defense anticipates the turtle-shell response.

Reading Scipio's thoughts I saw a better-written version of my own impressions from the tape on replay. Like Mack and the team when I slid the tape in (that's right, the Nickel Rover tech labs actually involve the use of a VCR) I was anticipating total vindication for my post-game thoughts which like many of you went as follows:

-Greg Davis is an absolute idiot who couldn't score on OU with Benson and Vince and has no idea how to maximize Texas talent.

-Will Muschamp should demand Davis, that absolute idiot, be sent fishing with a guard as terms for his commitment to the program.

-Greg Davis is an absolute idiot who is held to zero accountability and shows the same for his offense.

-This is the worst offense we have ever seen here and there is virtually no hope. Playing like this we could conceivably lose to every team in the Big 12 South.

Well, most of those assessments proved to be accurate save maybe for the last. We watched one of the worst offensive performances of the Brown era Saturday but shrouded in disaster was a group that could still win a conference championship. Or, that could win a conference championship if Bill Callahan still coached in Lincoln.

Consider the following statistics:

UCLA: 291 yards, 2 turnovers, 75 yards in penalties

Texas: 349 yards, 5 turnovers, 57 yards in penalties

You see that? Mack recently said that many of the greatest teams were the most highly penalized, which is true, the problem is that Texas isn't a great team. When the offense turns a 2nd and 4 into 2nd and 9 that's death, a 349 yard performance won't easily hold up to that either. What you should notice though is that UCLA's offense didn't perform world's better than UT's save for in turnovers, where they were not excellent. 290 yards is 290 yards, attained either by air or on the ground.

Texas' defense, which is indeed vulnerable to the running game and has little in the way of tackle play outside of Randall, had 4 sacks, forced 3 fumbles and recovered 2, and racked up 10 tackles for loss. That's better than good enough to win.

For instance,

UCLA: 5-13 on 3rd down, 0-0 on 4rth.

Texas: 6-14 on 3rd down, 0-2 on 4rth.

Those aren't drive sustaining numbers for either squad but the bigger problem for Texas is the 0-2 on 4rth. I firmly believe in going for it on 4rth down and all the logic and simple arithmetic suggests it is the superior option. I also believe that in the spread offense it is necessary to deliver the ball to your skill people short of the 1st down marker from time to time in order to get space to make it happen.

But you do not deliver the ball short of the marker to a man who is at a freaking stand still. If you must call on Barrett Matthews, who you have ignored up to this point, set him up to be open past the marker as part of a route that simple film study by UCLA won't easily discern as the target.

The aforementioned receiver stand still hot route against the corner-blitz hot route is a risk-averse move that running teams like UCLA would utilize, don't make Prince make a quick read, just take the no-gain and run another play. Texas isn't running the Pistol-option with Prince though, Gilbert has to be relied upon to make plays for this thing to work.

We are all firmly aware now that Texas doesn't run the ball. The attempt to make a risk-averse offense has proceeded exactly as it did in every OU game between 2000 and 2005, with oodles of turnovers and situational failure.

I wrote an article for "The Eyes of Texas:2010" that was made irrelevant very quickly. I figured Texas' best receivers, offensive line, and Gilbert called for a play-action running team that stayed in ball games and scored with deep strikes and occasional drives gifted by field position.

As it turned out, Davis was completely unequipped and/or disinclined to transform all the skill talent at RB, WR, and especially TE into a "downhill" team.

Let's quickly re-evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this offense.

Weaknesses, this will be easy:

1). No tight ends: Smith brings next to nothing to the table, Barrett Matthews has been asked to take on an unreasonable burden as sudden 4rth down option, power-run blocker, and glue to both the spread and under-center schemes. He may catch on this season or in the future but he cannot handle a position that Davis' offense requires the exceptional from.

2). Run-blocking: The casual fan will say that the back sucks when you can't run the ball, the more serious fan will blame the scheme or line, I'm telling you this line has run-blocking potential but is being put in tough spots by the play calls and completely unaided by every other skill position.

3). Consistency/Confidence...Identity: Against Tech this offense was doing almost everything it wanted to until the first tipped ball interception. From there they ran off a string of 10 or so consecutive plays in which there was a breakdown in execution that led to failure in each one. This team needs a coherent identity that the players can get behind and have faith in before we see consistent execution

It's easy for broadcasters and fans to make claims like, "This offense has no explosive talent" and point to the clear lack of explosive plays for support, but it isn't that simple. This is actually one of the fastest Texas teams I can remember that every team has treated with 2 deep safeties, aggression against the hitch passes, and watched self-destruct. If they could execute something well enough to move the ball 5-10 yards at a time you would see things open up deep.

Alright now strengths:

1). A deep cast of fast skill players: Monroe is fast and should absolutely be worked into the offense from here on out, Fozzy has become a very able pass-blocker and receiver in addition to being an explosive back in the counter, draw, and even zone plays. Goodwin, Chiles, Kirkendoll, Davis, Williams, White, many good passing offenses in this league have had less to work with at receiver. Davis' emergence and the rise of Chiles and Kirkendoll to something greater than "near-useless" in particular is important since they have potential in the preferred Davis pass-schemes.

2). A quarterback who can attack the entire field: When teams would Cover-2 the McCoy offense he would either overcome by virtue of teams being still unable to cover all the potential threats, or later be destroyed when he lost Collins, Cosby and Ogbonnaya. Gilbert could eventually punish defenses better deep than did McCoy. You can all ridicule if you like, I'm going down with the ship on Gilbert. No quarterback would look good if asked to carry the load with these play calls, scheme, and cast. I still see the potential, he throws some strikes on the run and plays with better poise than he's received credit for.

3). The scheme, personnel, and even coaching to spread 'em out: Hix has been far less atrocious in pass-protection than I expected. Granted the false-starts must desist and the sack he allowed early against Ayers was horrendous but he's still a solid option. We haven't seen this line have to protect against a lot of blitzes, since teams can sit back in coverage and easily prevent scores, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of protection. Even Mitchell was far better, although he was hardly facing Jeremy Beal. With the support of a back and occasional TE in max protection, along with better use of the draws and screens in the playbook, this group can definitely be functional.

The inclusion of more draws and screens has actually made the scheme more spread-friendly now than before Mack called for the return to balanced offense...which would lend credence to the conspiracy theory that Davis planned this all along.

This is the only hope for beating OU and competing for the Big 12 South title, beating Nebraska is a near-impossibility as they are perfectly designed to defeat us. I'm not saying that this offense, by spreading, can make this team championship-caliber, they won't. However, they need to be significantly better to even win 10 games.

I'm sure Davis has been filled with inspiration this off-season to fix the problems of 2009 with a few adjustments to the McCoy offense. He has quietly prepared this offense to succeed under his own terms after the running game wasted its ninth life on an inevitable loss. Luckily that came before the RRS.

And so it is again that we must rely on Greg Davis and his West-Coast passing game married to the spread to have any chance against the hated Sooners and remaining schedule. For now Mack should embrace it, and quietly set things up for his replacement in the spring.