Listening to Ari Tempkin of all people, defender of Greg Davis, I overheard a fascinating point and stat about our 2010 Texas Longhorn football team that offered some intense insight into our horrifyingly bad offense.
Tempkin claimed that Texas' tight ends last season accounted for 6 catches. 6. For the entire season...
Now it so happens that he's wrong, between Barrett Matthews, Greg Smith, and Dominique Jones, Texas TE's actually hauled in 21 balls for 121 yards and 2 TD's. In other words, slightly more than Shipley offered us at the position every saturday in 2009 and even greater still than what David Thomas averaged in 2005.
Tempkin was pretty far off (or I misunderstood) but the fact remains that Texas drew little benefit last season from deploying a tight end on the field. It's easy to see where that took its toll on Gilbert's effectiveness and a great starting place in understanding how that hamstrung us is Burnt in NY's post-game writeup from last year's RRS.
The sideline-to-sideline passing/rushing attack of Texas last season was in fact comprised of plays that had challenged opponents in previous seasons and players that are extremely dangerous on the edge. Malcolm Williams IS a dangerous player down the sideline, Kirkendoll can in fact run a 4.4 40, Marquise Goodwin does star in track in the offseason. What made those plays and players like that dangerous on the sideline in the past was the abundance of space that could be found there as defenses were forced to cover the expansive area of the field around the hash marks.
It was easy to scream at the TV or field last year for more pass calls to the middle of the field but far fewer answers on how exactly this could be achieved. It's not as though Davis is completely oblivious to the need to threaten that area of the field, even if he was clueless/uninterested on how to achieve such a feat.
Keeping Gilbert interception-free might have been part of the equation...a failed one we might add, but the lack of targets has to be another. We could rehash how much Matthews disappointed, Smith was useless, and Jones underused and unheralded or ponder the lack of an effective slot receiver who could find space against a zone but I'm ready to move on to better things: answers, hope, Blaine Irby.
The recovery of Irby to something near his early-2009 form is like Bono's miracle drug for the Texas offense. The odds of that actually happening aren't too great, regardless of what you may have heard on the rumor mill. The level of route running and timing Irby had developed and was approaching with Colt McCoy isn't going to rematerialize with Gilbert/best challenger after 1 offseason of practice that was taken slowly to protect his knee. Assuming, of course, that he can even recover physically to his pre-injury athletic form. The most we should hope from Blaine though might still approach the total production from the position last year with Irby finally having a shot at reaching his potential in 2012 after receiving a medical redshirt.
Barrett Matthews was a mule that I and many others attached much of our hope and heroin to for last season only to see him be catapulted into the middle of a minuteman meeting. Personally I don't think Davis put him in positions to succeed last year alternating between calling no plays for him, throwing it to him at a standstill against zone defenses, and then using him as a 3rd down target in crucial situations where he inevitably failed.
What's he capable of in the new offense? More, I'm sure. Mcfarland, Jones, Howard, Terrell, they'll all have their chance. The fact that HarsinWhite moved Malcolm Williams to halfback reveals that the staff sees the need to threaten the middle of the field and are going to look to use his size and speed wherever it's needed rather than as an occasional heat check for funsies or late game hail marys.
The Power-O series which LonghornScott detailed for us here (intro), here (responses), here (strongside complement), and here (weakside complement) are going to do a lot to open up the middle for us to launch the play-action attack off the Power-O series which will be detailed in a promised LonghornScott post on the subject (we're all waiting LS). To summarize the non-existing post, the goal is to suck in the linebackers who have never been particularly aggressive or punished for the way they've played our zone running game the last 3 seasons, and then punish them.
The most likely answer to the vacuum Shipley left over the middle though is the same answer to "who will step up and become a weapon for Texas on offense in 2011" or "who is going to be targeted on those play-action tosses?" Mike Davis. Post-routes, drags, PA Waggles, Davis' change of direction and speed coming over the middle in a healthy 2011 campaign is what will rejuvenate the Texas offense and open up the sideline game for screens, outside runs/sweeps, and set up the running game to overhwhelm outmanned fronts.
As fall practices approach and the season slowly paces its way up to us I believe that the mirage of an oasis we behold in the Texas heat will materialize to be MikeD on horseback offering us a canteen. Drink up, Judah Ben-Hur.