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August 21, 2008For going on 11 years at Texas, offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been viewed in the same light as allergies, stalled 401Ks and flat tires. He's the evil force Mack Brown has been blindly loyal to while Davis bungled the Chris Simms-Major Applewhite Era, ordered too many east-west passes for a deep threat like Roy Williams and continues to press on with the shotgun-option when he has a throwing quarterback like Colt McCoy.
Before you spit out your coffee just thinking about it all, consider that Davis doesn't make a move on offense without consulting, channeling or taking orders from Mack Brown. That's why the offense this season will be fascinating to watch.
The joke has always been Texas won't try anything new until after losing to Oklahoma. Brown says he's serious about incorporating trick plays "consistently" this year. The reason people believe him is UT's rout of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. It included a touchdown pass to a defensive tackle playing fullback, a reverse pass from a receiver and deploying both McCoy and John Chiles at quarterback.
Brown's reasons for saying 2008 will include trick plays have been all over the place. At one point he said it was about entertaining hard-to-entertain Texas fans. But the bottom line is: this is Davis' time to shine from an imagination standpoint. With offense ahead of defense in college football right now, Brown seems to want to make sure Texas keeps up.
EXPANDING THE PLAYBOOK
Brown purposely doesn't have Davis do much recruiting in the off-season, so Davis can study other offenses and see what Texas needs to add. This year, Davis looked at Oregon's offense from last season with quarterback Dennis Dixon to gather fodder for how to use McCoy and Chiles on the field at the same time in what is being called the "Q Package." Davis studied USC's two-back and motion sets as well as picked the brain of Houston Texans' coach Gary Kubiak - a longtime friend of Davis from their days together at Texas A&M. (Davis was Kubiak's QB coach with the Aggies from 1979-82.)
"There are givers and takers in this business, and Greg Davis is a giver," Kubiak said Wednesday. "He gives everything he has to players and to the assistant and head coaches he works with. He's not looking for a lot of credit. He loves his job. It's a passion. He loves what he's doing, loves to sit around and talk football. His resume speaks for itself. He's a great teacher, and the production he's had at Texas has just been tremendous."
Davis' research in the off-season is aimed at generating more explosive plays (runs of at least 12 yards and passes of at least 16 yards).
"We're constantly talking about explosive plays," Davis said. "We have worked really hard in the off-season and in camp. We're trying to make (trick plays) a normal part of what we do, so the kids look at them as just another play we've called 1,000 times.
"Against bend-but-don't break defenses it's harder to come by explosive plays, and that's when we have to get creative in manufacturing some of those explosive plays."
Many Texas fans would probably rather roll pennies than think about the words "Davis," "imagination" or "creative" in the same sentence. They remember 2006, when all Texas needed was a victory over Texas A&M - at home - to clinch the Big 12 South, and the offense could roll up only seven points in a 12-7 loss.
But before indicting Davis for every offensive complaint the last 10 years, one must consider Brown's history as well. Brown grew up in football as an offensive coordinator under coaches obsessed with running the football. Donnie Duncan at Iowa State. Barry Switzer at Oklahoma. Brown has never wanted Davis to stray too far from a power running game and a simple one at that.
If Urban Meyer is the Mark Cuban of college football coaches, constantly risking his fortune by inventing new plays out of the spread seemingly every week, Brown has been Smith Barney. Conservative. All about execution.
His philosophy has been "be simple, look complicated." But even his own former players say the offense has tended to be just plain simple. And that's been good enough because in Brown's 10 years at Texas, the Longhorns have averaged six games per year against teams that finish with a losing record. When half the teams you play are cupcakes, better talent and execution should win big. But against Oklahoma, Texas has averaged just 18.5 points per game the last eight years - a span that has seen OU win five Big 12 titles. That's half of Texas' 37-points-per-game scoring average under Davis the last 10 years.
Brown and Davis have worked together for going on 16 years. They were together for three years at Tulane (1985-87), two at North Carolina (1996-97) and 11 at Texas (1998-present).
When Brown initially made a call to Davis at Georgia in 1995 to rejoin him at North Carolina, Davis said no. Davis had been running a four-receiver offense with quarterbacks Eric Zeier and Mike Bobo. He told Brown he wasn't going to leave his wide-open attack to simply run the football under Brown. Brown, however, promised Davis he could do whatever he wanted, so Davis joined him in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels went 10-2 and 10-1 the next two seasons - both Top 10 finishes - after Brown went 7-5 in 1995 as coach and offensive play caller for the Tar Heels.
"I wasn't sure that was a philosophy change Mack was ready for," Davis said. "But he was, and he's been true to his word. Overall, we want to be able to run the ball, but we want to be able to throw it and beat you that way also.
"We don't want to get in a situation where we're playing in bad weather or unbelievable wind and the running game is an afterthought. We also want to run the ball because of where we're at, we're going to have the ability to bring in good offensive linemen and good backs. That's always a big part of not only the offensive philosophy but the recruiting philosophy."
If anyone has wanted to push the envelope offensively, it's Davis, who drew up game plans for converted slot back Hines Ward to play quarterback at Georgia in 1995. Ward stepped in when the team's top two quarterbacks went down with injuries. Ward ended up setting a school bowl game record by completing 31-of-59 passes for 413 yards in the Peach Bowl that year.
If anyone's been tapping the brakes, it's Brown. What you've seen on offense at Texas the last 10 years is what Brown is willing to permit. Brown's philosophy has essentially been to opposing defenses, "You know what we're going to run, but we have better talent and we will out-execute you."
That was reiterated by former UT quarterback Major Applewhite, who helped pull off one of Brown's three signature wins at Texas - at Nebraska in 1998 (at Ohio State in 2005 and USC are the others).
"Greg has plenty of creativity," Applewhite said. "As a coordinator, having been one, you can get as crazy as you want to get. But when you've got great players, you've got to toe the line on that. If you've got great players, you can beat most of the teams if you execute.
"But we're going to add wrinkles as we need to feature our players, as Coach Davis has done. But at the same time, we do a good job recruiting, and we need to trust our scheme and what we do and execute and not just be a team with a bunch of gadget and trick plays. I think we can line up and beat people, but we also have those wrinkles to add some multiplicity to what we do."
Brown has final say over each play called by Davis.
"Greg and I discuss every game plan," Brown said. "I hear every play, and one of the things I can do because he's tough and not sensitive at all - if I don't like something he's doing I can tell him and he'll listen. He's got an opinion about it, and if he doesn't like it he'll tell me. But if it needs to be changed, he'll change it."
LIVEN IT UP
With Brown and Davis talking about expanding the offense, is 2008 the year fans walk out of Royal-Memorial Stadium saying, "Did you see that?" Brown's rationale in the spring, when he announced his intent to use more trick plays, seemed to be all about entertaining the fans. Remember?
"Greg (Davis), our offensive staff is a very fundamental staff - look complicated and be simple," Brown said. "Greg does a great job of getting the best players the ball. At the same time, people are more visual than ever before. We have more electronic gadgets than ever before. All the kids and fans, if they want to, can get on a video game and have all their trick plays. And fans like all that stuff.
"We're in the education business during the week and we're in show business on the weekend. We need to win. We need to be physical. We need to be tough. We need to have fun, and we need to look good. That's part of entertaining people.
"Texas fans are hard to entertain sometimes, so we need to keep their attention. And kids love trick plays. If you put it in the week of the game, it usually stinks. If you put it in in the spring and work on it, and use them 15 times during the season, and you've run them - and it's better for your defense. We got fooled too many times with a good defense two years ago.
"So we think it's fun. We think it's productive for the offense. It's productive for the defense, if it's part of our package instead of 'let's put in a trick play.' We're going to run them consistently."
Brown in the past has been defensive when asked about the creativity of Texas' offense. And why not? Fans may not have walked out of Royal-Memorial Stadium with any single play in their memory bank. But Texas has averaged 37 points per game over the last 10 seasons, including an NCAA record 652 points (50.2 ppg) in 2005.
Texas has never averaged less than 33.8 points per game in a season under Davis. So why the change now? And forget that stuff about entertaining the fans.
"There's more people with great talent around," Brown said. "We don't think you're going to win with a bunch of trick plays because if you're not playing well, the trick plays don't work.
"On the days you're playing well and you probably would have won anyway, the trick plays work. On the day you stink, we call four of them, we never get to the line of scrimmage and y'all say we didn't call any. Well, we did, they just didn't get executed or they stunk."
Brown thinks using more trick plays on offense in practice will help prepare UT's defense for all the creativity being used by opponents moving the ball these days.
"Everybody else is using them so much. A couple years ago, we felt like it really hurt us on defense," Brown said. "My job is to make sure the offense is doing enough, having enough diversity that we will play against - like keeping an option in the offense, running some power, running some trick plays - so our defense can work against things they are going to see in games what they see every day on the practice field. Our defense needs to stay multiple enough that our offense is going to see all the things they are going to see down the road without a scout team."
PULLING BACK THE REINS
Brown reined Davis in after the 2001 and 2002 seasons because he felt Davis had thrown the ball too much with Simms and gotten away from smash-mouth football. Texas was being labeled soft. Offensive line coach Tim Nunez, the receivers coach at Tulane from 1988-91 when Davis was head coach there, was let go. Mac McWhorter, who worked with Davis at Georgia, replaced him.
Brown doesn't really fiddle with the defense. But he fiddles with the offense - a lot. In 2004, it was Brown's idea to have a very conservative offensive game plan against Oklahoma because Vince Young was still growing in the passing game. Brown thought it was important to tell the players on offense before that game the plan was to be vanilla. It resulted in the school's first shutout (12-0) in 282 games, ending the longest scoring streak in the country.
"In some cases, Greg is such a team guy, we've tried to set up offensive game plans when we thought our defense would carry things and it made our offense look bad because the defense still stunk and the offense didn't score much," Brown added. "But Greg is a very faithful man, a great family man and the only other thing he cares about is football at the University of Texas."
How much things are really going to change offensively this year remains to be seen. Just the other day Brown talked about not wanting the Q Package to be a distraction. Davis says the Q Package absolutely will work, noting it produced "three very productive plays" in last Saturday's scrimmage.
Davis deserves credit for changing Texas' offense in 2003 at mid-season from a pro passing attack to the shotgun option and turning Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas into downfield blockers for Young. It resulted in a national title two years later. Davis is the driving force on the Q Package.
While Texas has averaged a schedule that includes six teams with a losing record the last 10 years, the 2008 schedule includes nine teams that reached a bowl game last season. Davis seems to realize Texas' offense might need some new looks against this year's competition.
How much latitude will Brown give Davis?
How much trickery will fans see in the big games this season against the likes of Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M?
"It's a collaboration," Davis said. "We've been together a long time. Because I don't recruit a whole bunch in the off-season, it allows me to watch a bunch of tape from other people. We know the importance of explosive plays and those are ways for us to create explosive plays instead of just allowing it to occur in the flow of your offense."
So for Davis, it's a chance to let his imagination run wild - as long as Brown is serious about letting him.
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