Lest there be any confusion, my goal here is not to prevent the hatred of Greg Davis, I'm as frustrated as anyone with the product that has been on the field thus far in the season which is quickly looking like the worst offense of the Mack Brown era. I hardly need to remind anyone here that it’s coming after a season that featured an offense that ranked amongst the worst of the Greg Davis abominations.
Rather, my goal is to inform on what exactly this madman is doing with our offense. First remember this, Mack Brown and every Austin or national reporter who has had access to Davis has walked away impressed to the point of intimidation by his football acumen. If you came at him with "why do you throw it sideways all the time" he could easily eviscerate your arguments and possibly convert you to his philosophy then and there. At least until you witnessed another debacle.
The starting point with Greg Davis is the man Bill Walsh, inventor of the West Coast Offense and head coach of the San Francisco 49er's in their incredible 80's and 90's runs. His primary contribution to football was the advent of timing routes where the quarterback would complete his drop in time to hit the receiver as they came out of their break. Timing routes are ingrained into football now and what made Dan Fouts, Joe Montana and Steve Young into legends then is standard operating procedure today.
A further wrinkle of the WCO is route adjustment (you can credit the run'n'shoot I suppose) in which the receiver will read the coverage and make his break to a particular point where the quarterback, having read the coverage the same way, will make a timed throw.
The basic philosophy is that the offense can throw the ball virtually every down on these short, occasionally adjusted, timed routes and complete them at a high percentage. Joe Montana and Steve Young set the world on fire doing this at a 60% clip or better, Colt in 2008 of course completed about 80% of his passes. As a result of those percentages not only is getting about 5 yards every play a near certainty, like an effective running game, but incomplete passes are no great bother because on 2/3 of your snaps you are expecting at least 3-5 yards automatically and very often a lot more in the deeper routes or if the receiver isn’t tackled immediately.
Obviously it hasn't worked out that way, but this is the essential philosophy of Greg Davis. Theoretically, the offense should be able to throw the ball 35+ times a game and the quarterback and receivers read any defense and execute at a level where the short game serves as the base offense.
Sounds pretty awesome if fairly ambitious right? Despite having some honest intentions, like communism it ultimately fails. We saw the offense function on this level in 2008 but ultimately come short of mastery in every other season (in which the short game was the base offense). The Labor Theory of Value variety flaw in Davis' West Coast offense is its implementation at the college level. The demands of the system are:
1). Tremendous timing and experience developed by the quarterback and receivers together against various defenses.
2). Consistent protection by the offensive line for upwards of 50 snaps a game.
3). A simple running game that can be implemented without stealing the necessary reps necessary to get the timing, routes and protections down.
In terms of personnel this means a strong offense will have:
1). A very accurate quarterback who has experience in the system throwing to receivers he has experience throwing to.
2). A big, pass-protection proficient OL including the presence of a superior Left Tackle.
3). Versatility from the non-WR skill players. If you play the WCO with a tight end, running back and fullback those guys better be able to get out into routes AND know protections.
The problems with running this at a college should be obvious. For starters, you lose approximately half of your offensive starters every season. In a system that relies upon continuity that's going to mean some serious regressions in seasons in which key pieces exhaust their eligibility.
It's no accident that the most effective squad featured a 3rd year starter at quarterback throwing to a 3 year starter at Receiver, a 2 year starter at receiver whom he had known since before the world was made, and an experienced running back who was a converted wide receiver.
Sustained excellence by the offensive line is another difficult standard for the college offense. While that's not necessarily a problem for Davis who can select the best Texas has to offer every season, at a location like Nebraska a more capable WCO coach like Bill Callahan can really struggle finding the pieces necessary to achieve a functional unit. We saw this with Davis from only a few off years recruiting poor or otherwise unusable OL.
Finally it's difficult in the college game, where teams have 20 hours of practice per week, to rep the passing game and have any time left for a varied running game that can be successful. Naturally Davis chose the zone blocking system for Texas, the most rep-intensive running scheme on the market, and we've seen the results. Davis treats the running game as a constraint to anti-West Coast plays, which is fine, but they have not chosen running schemes that can be used in that capacity.
The zone-read was the great exception, as it was a running play with everything built in that didn't require 2 or 3 other base running plays to complement it.
There are plenty of other opportunity costs of the WCO, besides a diverse and reliable running game that can "pick up the slack" for young starters at quarterback as ours was supposed to do this season. Let's say you have an explosive athlete who can make a big difference in games but has not mastered the protections or routes of the offense? Well, if you are Greg Davis you either develop obvious and specific packages for them or you fail to utilize them at all until they can meet the demands of your playbook.
In sum, are relying on continuity in an environment where little is offered while failing to capitalize on many of your incoming resources in a given year. Most great passing teams in college football use timing routes but they don't make the West Coast short routes the basis of their offense for the reasons demonstrated above. In the right year, when the OL is clicking and the QB and receivers are all on the same page, as well as being talented, you might have an awesome offense as Texas did in 2008. Then, just as frequently you will have a season with a new QB and receivers and have an offense every bit as awful as the 2008 offense was effective, like in 2010 (I exclude the OL because I believe this group is pass protecting about as well as any unit in the last 3 years here).
Longhorn fans clearly recognize that much is terribly wrong with Davis and his scheme but here are the more common criticisms you will hear:
1). It's a horizontal offense that doesn't get downfield.
Well, that's why they call it the West Coast Offense. If running towards the end zone is called "north-south running" wouldn't throwing to the sideline classify as East-West? Every team throws "horizontally" on a regular basis because it's an effective way to conduct offense. The real problem is not the scheme so much as it is the usage and supplementation of the scheme.
2). It's a highly predictable offense.
Technically it should be malleable to exploit every defense with simple adjustments, but frequently teams dictate what is left open and act with impunity towards the deep pass or running game in how they handle the short route combos. Most defensive coordinators have discovered that by dropping defenders into deeper coverage but then jumping the routes they can prevent Davis from testing them deep while still rendering the short game impotent. The new prevalence of nickel-base defenses hasn't helped either but worst is the trend towards 1 high safety pattern matching that allows teams to gang up on the short passes and running game with numbers while still being sound against 4-verticals or other deep passing plays. Needless to say Davis hasn't adjusted to any of these and has been made quite predictable as a result.
3). It requires players who will improvise and ignore Davis' calls:
This is one of the more unfair criticisms, since Davis teaches and emphasizes improvisation by his quarterbacks. He hasn't handed this essential responsibility to Gilbert yet but the nature of Davis' offense is to allow the players to adjust to what is actually happening on the field. He hasn't developed awesome responses for the defensive adjustments mentioned above but the essential nature off-schedule play is understood by Davis. He even told Norm Chow as much when instructing him in the usage of Vince. Clearly Chow didn’t listen.
4). It requires transcendent talent.
I would say experienced talent and we've covered why that is not a reasonable demand in the college game. But ultimately, no one wins at the level expected at Texas (Conference and National Championships) without transcendent talent, the tremendous potency necessary to achieve perfection and defeat as many as 2 or 3 other big time programs doesn’t come often no matter what offense you run.
5). The spread saved 2008.
It did if you think of it in the sense that the spread saved the 08 season from the near-disaster of Blaine Irby’s injury. Colt and the offense were hardly struggling before the Irby injury necessitated the Shipley-Flex TE move, although this adjustment helped the short passing game by ensuring that all of the eligible targets were effective and not volleyball diggers, but the real strength of the offense was in teams being unable to cope with McCoy throwing to Ogbonnaya, Cosby, Shipley, Collins, and Kirkendoll. Someone was always open and Colt trusted nearly all of them. It's very possible Irby would have destroyed OU along with Shipley and Cosby as Colt was developing some great familiarity with him.
6). Davis sucks without the zone-read.
Pretty much, I'm mildly hopeful about the development of the draw as our catch-all running game solution for 2010. The zone minus the option element has utterly failed as a primary scheme because we do not invest in it sufficiently. It requires repeated use, blocking skill players, and a lot of cohesion. It’s not a constraint for the short game like as Davis attempts to utilize it.
7). Davis has no understanding of game theory (from Scipio Tex).
So it would seem. His disregard for the deep pass and running game as constraints is fairly ironic given his preference for the WR screen game, which is typically a constraint against teams loading up to stop the running game or blitzing to stop the deep pass. It takes a particularly arrogant or stupid person to think that your base plays (what the defense has to stop) should work all the time against any defense. I’m guessing Davis is actually the former, not that it makes much difference.
Hopefully we are now all a little smarter about our hatred of both Greg Davis and the product he has presented over the last decade. It's an offense that is theoretically unstoppable and more versatile than any other but in practice has yielded the inconsistent putridity we have come to know and hate.
It’s very likely that if he stays, Gilbert will be freed to improvise and look deep while he also develops the necessary rapport with MikeD, Malcolm, Goodwin, White, etc. but we shouldn’t have to suffer through this incompetence hoping to catch lightning in a bottle once a decade when better options exist for all our talent.