The interest in the Longhorn QB race has been palpable, fueled mostly by the emergence of freshman QB David Ash who is one part badass, two parts cipher, and powered by Alpha Wolf Jesus fire.
David was sent here to kick ass and drink Grape Nehi and he's running out of Grape Nehi.
The David Ash emergence was predicted on Recruitocosm months ago and met with healthy skepticism. Yes, we tout our Horns and toot our horns. What of it?
Over the next ten days, the Texas coaches will winnow down the QB competition to two guys - who will it be? And why?
Let's break down the QB race in its very early stages, talk about HarsinWhite's expectations (my Dad has been lobbying for me to coin the phrase SinApple for our two-headed OC - I like its evocation of Original Sin in the Garden of Eden), and discuss how Mack Brown's psychology will influence our ultimate decision making.
What do our coaches want from the position in the absence of a Vince Young or Colt McCoy style One Man Gang? SinApple have been open about the measures they're going to use because they're still young enough to actually say the things they mean.
The three metrics are:
1. Limiting turnovers.
Turnovers at QB aren't just interceptions, they're also fumbles. Fumbles, insofar as the QB controls them, stem from holding on to the ball, not adjusting protections properly, and ball security. There's an intuitive aspect to this, but it's also directly correlated to experience and time in system. Not to mention hand size, hand strength, and physical hardiness. There are ticks and minuses for all of our candidates here.
The second part is interceptions. Assuming a sound system and targets to throw to, QB-caused interceptions bubble up from three primary wellsprings: lack of accuracy, lack of arm strength, and lack of judgement. Acts of God impact all QBs equally over time.
Vince Young always had accuracy. His judgement got better over time.
Carson Palmer is the rarer example of a QB who increased his baseline accuracy late in his career when he learned proper footwork.
Brett Favre is a classic example of a QB with exceptional accuracy but questionable judgement.
The weak-armed QB can be hidden in the college game, but if you struggle to get the ball in spots downfield in our new offense, you can't play for us. Boise's Kellen Moore has a weak arm from a NFL perspective, but he actually throws an accurate deep ball. Boise doesn't ask him to throw 15 yard outs - a true test of arm strength - as they know it's a pick six in waiting.
Key learning point: Unless your inaccuracy stems from a core mechanical deficiency, you'll always be a little wild-armed. You can't be saved.
Judgement is far more often the place where QBs realize growth over time.
Ash will turn it over based on youth, McCoy will turn it over based on physical deficiencies and youth, Gilbert will turn it over based on lack of field perception and slow processing speeds, Wood will turn it over based on youth and core inaccuracy.
Picking your poison should be based on who best will develop out of their weakness in the short and long term.
2. Make off-schedule plays.
Football is a dynamic game. Their Xs won't behave the way the coaches draw it up and our Os don't always make their block or the right sight adjustment. This isn't limited to the QB singlehandedly creating a first down with pure athletic dynamism as we saw at Texas from 2003-2009. It can also found in the Ty Detmers of the world in which you buy a little time with a pocket reset and a quick processing to your third or fourth option.
That written, we're looking for someone who someone who is fundamentally creative in the truest sense. It requires self-confidence, spatial awareness, quick processing speeds, and raw athletic ability. No current QB - as best we can tell - has a lion's share of ability here, but this is where Ash starts to titillate, isn't it? Mostly because we lack data on him. And we fill in the missing gaps with best case scenarios.
3. Hit open men.
This is the ultimate key to the QB competition and the success of our offense.
I had a long talk with Longhorn Scott where, over the course of two plus hours, we agreed that for the first time in a long time we're going to be running a system in which the defense is set up for a key 3-5 plays per game in which the QB must execute a winning throw to an open man in order to realize our upside. If we don't, we're putting 13-17 points up on the board with 21 more left on the field and the film.
Hitting open men also means a QB who can take candy when it's available. Many defensive coverages, by simple alignment, offer you a 10 yard gain if you can get us into the right play call and throw a catchable ball. Case McCoy really demonstrated this on his slant and bootleg throws in the Spring game. Look how easy those first four throws are. He took the candy the other QBs wouldn't shoplift.
We also saw his downside on the Darius White throw.
I cannot stress enough that the purpose of all of this motion, deception, and initiative granted to individual player route adjustment is precisely so you can have a wide open skill athlete running down the seam waving his hand feverishly. If we can't hit him for big plays with 80%+ certainty, this offense is doomed. The running game can't breathe, the passing game constricts, and we're playing offense in a broom closet.
Which QB can we trust to make throws? McCoy sees it but may not be able to make it. Gilbert can make it but may not see it. Wood may see it and hit a sideline reporter. Ash may realize he's 18 years old and release a trickle of pee down his pants leg.
First, if you anoint David Ash as the opening day starter, Texas will have 2-3 QBs transfer. Before you quibble, consider that when you elevate a true freshman over more experienced program players - most particularly at QB - you're sending a very clear message. Not to mention how pride, entitlement, and a lack of honest self-appraisal play into it. There is definitely value in remaining as Ash's #2 should he disappoint or get injured and that would result in some amusing bluffing and gamesmanship between Wood, Gilbert, and McCoy about their intentions. You don't want to be the first or second guy to transfer. Make the others guys show their hand.
Next, the persistent notion that Case McCoy would never transfer or his camp would never protest a relegation to career back-up is a Brett Favre late-in-a-playoff-game-read on a deep option route followed by a Croc-wearing texting of your junk to a fake-titted sideline reporter sort of judgement.
Neither he or his family views Case as a scrappy program kid grateful for a scholarship. They believe he is the best QB on campus, potentially as good as Colt, the only one of our QBs who can see the field or win the confidence of his teammates, and the only logical choice as our starter. Full stop. Absorb this. Until you understand that, you're just talking. No, really. Read it again.
Brad McCoy was extremely disappointed in how the staff handled Case last year and thought he should have been given a late season shot instead of sticking with Gilbert. Case McCoy is here to start at QB. He believes that he will be the starter. For him to accept a different role would require as much soul-searching and redefinition of self as if Jackson Jeffcoat saw himself running 3rd team at DE.
Garrett Gilbert was a can't-miss superstar who bombed in a terrible offense that did him no favors and now he has a sense that he was born under an unlucky star. Doom and doubt hangs over him like the stink on Pigpen in the Peanuts gang. Other players sense that. Of course, it's all a self-perpetuating mind fuck, but when when you imagine something to be real, it is real. He has issues seeing the field and, as I've held since he first entered our awareness, he is a system QB with a pre-snap decision-making process trained by his high school offense. He also has a NFL QB Dad who was a career back-up and we can all work through that psychological interplay easily enough. Garrett Gilbert can lead this offense, but he must un-fuck himself. Right now Gilbert is a guy that things happen to. He needs to be the player that make things happen.
Connor Wood is a longer term developmental prospect. His upside is purely based on whether mechanical coaching will fix his accuracy inconsistencies and he can get a little edge about him. No one has any idea. Not Connor, not our coaches, not me. I wouldn't be surprised if he Matt Nordgrenned and accepted his role nor would I be surprised if he transferred to SMU and threw for 8,000 yards.
David Ash is physically ready (with a body more ready for college football than VY, Colt, or Chris Simms at the same stage) and he has shown promising glimpses of talent, but games aren't practice. We've had poor practice QBs who shine in games (James Brown, VY, James Street) and we've had practice Heisman winners the coaches have nightmares about putting on the field. How do we find out what we've got without burning all bridges with the other three?
Resolution: The Mack Brown Way
The politically expedient way of dealing with QB is that Gilbert is one of the two who makes the cut. He has started games and whatever his efficacy in them, there is some psychological solace there. Choosing between McCoy and Wood - who are polar opposites in almost every conceivable attribute - requires a projection of upside predicated on McCoy's physical development and arm strength charted against Wood's mechanical progression and acquisition of Alpha Dog attributes. It's harder to pick against Case for a number of sentimental reasons and Mack Brown is nothing if that.
Frankly, I don't see many guys get Alpha late in life and I don't see many vastly improve their arm strength. So it may all be irrelevant.
Finally, Ash can be dealt with in two ways:
First, make him your special package QB - a designation that transcends depth chart designation, spares elder egos, and allows you to work him in games and see what we've really got. Then he can be elevated from 3rd to 1st in a stunning Games Of Thrones style coup if needed.
Second - the more ballsy choice - is to make him special package QB but also designate him #2 on the depth chart one week before the opener. Let the chips fall where they may.
If Ash is designated the outright starter, the dead will walk the earth, Flava Flav will marry Pippa Middleton, and Penelope Cruz will return my texts.
Of course, this post is as only as good as Ash's next scrimmage performance. Three picks and two missed open receivers renders it all moot.
What say you, esteemed reader?