Overreaction ...on Both Sides

Inside Texas' Ross Lucksinger addresses the central debate that is swirling around the Longhorns' 24-7 loss to Ohio State: the role of offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

Let's get right down to it. Did offensive coordinator Greg Davis cause the Longhorns loss to Ohio State?

The short answer is an easy "no."

Dropped passes, a fumble lost, an interception, defensive miscues were all big factors that combined to create the game that unfolded at DKR on Saturday night.

To say that Davis' play calling was the reason the Longhorns lost is shortsighted. Longhorn fans have traditionally demanded more than they should (like expecting to win the national title, even when that hadn't been the case for over thirty years) and many seem to expect perfection from their coaching staff. This is, of course, impossible, but a significant number of mistakes that should not have been made were made against the Buckeyes and need to be addressed.

It would be easy for me to sit here and point out examples of poor play calling when I'm not the one with the pressure of making the call, when I don't know what was said between Davis and his quarterback, when I don't know what would have happened if a different play was called...so here goes:

Run/pass balance
A major criticism placed on the Texas coaching staff in this game is how often the Longhorns went away from the run. For the most part, the Longhorns attack was balanced, throwing the ball 32 times and rushing 31, but the issue with the play calls had less to do with the balance of plays and more to do with the type of passes.

You run to set up the deep ball, not run to set up the screen. Running the ball collapses the defense down to the box, giving you more room to throw over the top, but also making it more difficult to execute swing passes and the like. Screen passes and dump-offs, when run properly, do worlds for eliminating pressure, by forcing the defensive ends to stay honest. But McCoy saw little pressure the entire game due to a solid performance from his line.

The lack of a deep passing game was not entirely Davis' fault. McCoy seemed determined not to make any mistakes and frequently stared down his dump-off option, as if the running back was the primary option, and missed out on several opportunities. In fact, Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles accounted for more than half of the Longhorns' receiving yards. Of course, this is to be expected from a redshirt freshman who's been placed in the difficult position of being the Texas quarterback.

Predictability
Another common complaint about the Texas offense is the predictability.

I'm not a coach. If you want scheme or strategy questions answered, Coach Venable over on the Coach's Corner Forum can do a much better job than I could ever hope to. Not being a coach, when I can typically predict run or pass based off of down, distance and formation that's a problem, but not a huge problem. The huge problem is when I can predict the specific play. If I know what's coming, Ohio State sure as heck does.

This wasn't an issue for Texas last year because Vince Young was essentially impossible to predict. Then again, it's hard to say that the Longhorns' offense was entirely predictable when the following occurs…

Good idea, bad timing
There were just under six minutes were remaining in the game and the Longhorns were down by three scores. It was 3rd and 16 from the Texas 14-yard line. This is a tough spot for any football team to be in, but not insurmountable or impossible. What play is called? A sprint option out of the shotgun that nets three yards and effectively ends the football game.

Ohio State actually made a similar play call earlier in the game. With just under 13 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Buckeyes were faced with a 3rd and 16 as well and also opted to run the ball. However, this was following a sack that had nearly pushed Ohio State out of field goal range and Antonio Pittman's 13-yard run caught the Texas defense off-guard. The play did not result in a first down, but it put Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey, who had struggled in both the opener and against Texas, in position to make it a two-score game.

Another example of successfully reading the game situation is when Ohio State took the ball on their own 28, up 17-7, with 11:55 remaining in the game. The logical choice in this situation is to grind it out on the ground and move up the field, while at the same time giving your opponent less time to work with when the drive is finished. But the Buckeyes had struggled in the run game all day and Jim Tressel and his staff opted to attack the Longhorns where they were weakest. Ohio State passed for 44 yards on the drive, compared to 9 yards rushing and 20 picked up by penalty, and put the game out of reach.

Capitalization (or lack thereof) on the run game
A HUGE pat on the back goes to the Texas O-line. Rather than using line-up-and-run-down-the-middle plays, the Longhorns primarily opted for some of the most challenging run plays for a line to pull off. Counter runs out of the shotgun where both the guard and tackle pull, read blocks where the entire line shifts one gap over, speed option tosses where the linebackers have to be contained to prevent the play from being strung out. The play calls demanded execution from the offensive line and they performed phenomenally. It was apparent that the Texas coaching staff did a great job of preparing this unit and the running backs effectively identified the holes

In fact, both lines played exceptionally well. The Ohio State had trouble running the ball and quarterback Troy Smith was successfully contained to the pocket. Texas was more physical at the point of attack on both sides of the ball, had fewer penalties, had more time of possession…and lost by 17 points. That requires a lot of metal errors on both sides of the ball and that was definitely the case. The Texas players will learn a lot from this game, but many Longhorn fans are hoping that the coaches will too.

Conclusion
Preparation for the game was top notch. The Longhorn players were fast and physical and the high level of coaching that they get in practice everyday is evident. But the coaches were also placed in a position where the best are able to adjust and too many times it just wasn't the case. Of course, it's difficult to adjust when things aren't going right and Davis couldn't control a lot of what was happening on the field. He did not cause the Longhorns to lose, but also made his share of mistakes and wasn't going to scheme his way out of the jam that the Buckeyes put the Longhorns in.

...and no, he doesn't deserve to lose his job.


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