Sidetracked

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After Garrett Gilbert throws a short pass to the sideline and his receiver desperately claws to gain a yard, Gilbert puts both hands to the ears of his helmet as if he’s sheltering himself from 100,000 disappointed fans.

In some ways, that’s exactly what he’s doing. But the sole purpose is to hear the voice of the man in the box, offensive coordinator Greg Davis. In his 13 years at Texas, Davis has enjoyed tremendous success at the helm of the Longhorns offense. But much of that success can be attributed to the natural talent that head coach Mack Brown has imported year in and year out.

This season, with an inexperienced quarterback and a lack of jaw-dropping talent at running back and receiver, Davis is facing his biggest challenge yet — score with wit. And for the most part, he has struggled mightily.

“I know people are frustrated,” Davis said. “To be honest, I’m frustrated, too.”

Davis is the eye in the sky at all football games, tucked away, practically invisible and far from the sideline. But when he orchestrates a cacophony of short passes for little gain, he becomes exposed to criticism. The hardcore Longhorn fans know who he is, and his conservatism with Gilbert is becoming noticeable.

To end the first half against Oklahoma, Gilbert finally got to showcase the “pro-ready arm” coaches had excitedly raved about before the season. It was a desperate heave to the end zone, more than half a field away and was easily intercepted by the Sooners. But it had to have been the most beautiful interception Texas fans have seen this year because it provided proof that Gilbert could complete a deep pass — even if completed by the opposition.

In the Longhorns’ two losses, Davis has asked Gilbert to throw the short pass more and more. He’s either losing faith in his young quarterback or feels the short pass will lead to something eventually. No matter the reasoning, while critics are questioning Davis’s decisions, he’s even beginning to question himself.

“Part of coaching is asking yourself, ‘Are you asking your players to do something they can’t do?’” Davis said. “That’s another part that, schematically, you want to do the things that fit their abilities the best.”

After four games of the sideline pass, the evidence shows it doesn’t work. The pass occasionally works in the NFL, where many defenses are covering man to man and the receivers are athletic machines. But with Texas’ undersized receivers, the play doesn’t tend to work.

Some critics see the trick plays ran by Boise State and other successful offenses and wonder why the Longhorns can’t pull them off. The majority of Texas’ trick plays have miserably ended with a loss of yards, and many call Davis too old school.

“You know those plays make SportsCenter when they work,” Davis said. “But when they don’t, you’re gimmicky.”

So maybe he’ll just stick to the sideline pass — simple, short and sweet. It works every blue moon but until it does, Davis blames the misfortunes on the Longhorns’ lack of experience.

“Anytime you have a couple of new starters, I think you’re going to be inconsistent,” Davis said. “It doesn’t mean you like it or accept it, but experience tells you it’s going to happen.”