Austin Davis will do what it takes to achieve his goals. That’s the lasting impression I had following our conversation back in July as Davis prepared for his senior year at Southern Miss. “The biggest thing is to be a winner and to be a guy that people want on their team. You can’t do anything about your height, you can’t do anything about a lot of things. You can do something about your attitude, your work ethic and your mentality towards the game. That’s one thing I want to excel at and be the best at. I want to win games and I want to lead this team.”
In November, Southern Miss were ranked by the AP for the first time since 2004. In dominating Houston, they defeated the #6 team on the road to win a first ever Conference-USA title. This is the first time the school has won 11 games in a season. The impact of Austin Davis – as a leader, playmaker and technician – cannot be underestimated. While the Golden Eagles have some other talented players, particularly at the skill positions, it’s Davis who leads from the front. He’s not a perfect player, he’s not the type that earns non-stop unwarranted hype throughout a season. He just gets on with the job. He’s broken nearly every quarterback record at the school, records previously held by Brett Favre.
In November, Pete Carroll told Brock and Salk on ESPN 710, “There’s some exciting kids coming out of the draft, but there’s exciting ones that the people don’t know about too and they’ll be enough.” I’ve made this point before, but could Austin Davis be one of these players that ‘the people don’t know about’? He’s worked with an offense very similar to the one Carroll wishes to incorporate in Seattle – heavy run attack, ball control and a real emphasis on winning the turnover battle. When I asked Davis about the mindset of the Southern Miss offense, he replied, “Just from day one my coaches have just preached to me about protecting the football and not throwing interceptions so I’ve always tried to be a quarterback that’s always smart with the football. I guess some people call it conservative, but I call it smart football. I know if we hold onto the ball then we’re going to win a lot of games and there’s going to be a lot of big plays that guys are going to make around me.” Doesn’t it just sound so Carroll-esque?
Davis is athletic enough to make gains on the ground and extend plays, he’s improved his arm strength and build through sheer hard graft. He fits the mould of the point-guard quarterback, supplying the ammunition to the team’s playmakers. This was a keynote victory for Southern Miss in a game where many people will have watched Davis probably for the first time. This wasn’t a spectacular performance, there were a few mistakes along the way and you wouldn’t say he picked apart the Houston defense. However, Davis made enough big plays to win the game. Of his four touchdown scores, three flashed a touch of quality.
Some perspective is needed, too. When I talk up Davis’ talents, it’s not as a first round level player. The Seahawks may win their way out of contention for top quarterback prospects like Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III. Assuming they’ll want to draft a quarterback at some stage, I think we have to look at a player like Davis as an option later on. He’ll need time to work within a pro-weight programme, he’ll need time to learn the playbook. If he’s given that time, I think he can succeed. This isn’t a guy who walks onto the team in week one and carries you to a 10-6 season. There’s something there though, something to work with.
This was a very windy afternoon in Houston and both quarterbacks took a while to settle into the conditions. A touchdown late in the first quarter helped Davis find some momentum, but it’s second score that I want to start with. At 13:42 in the second quarter he has 2nd and ten at the 36-yard line. He fakes the hand off and places a beautifully weighted pass to the receiver for a gain of nearly twenty yards. Effortless throw, good read and a simple completion. It set up another fake hand off, Davis turns to the right side of the field and appears to be running a bootleg to the right. He stops abruptly, turns to his left and makes a second read deep to the left to the running back on a wheel route and put the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Great execution, sold the play call perfectly and made the most of the single coverage.
He makes perhaps an even better play for his third touchdown pass – one read down the middle, back across to the right and drops a nice pass into the hands of his receiver, dissecting two defenders. The ball placement is at the right height and just in front of the wide out so he can turn, get up-field quickly and run off a 69-yard score. That, to me, is the definition of point-guard quarterback play. Good decision making, accuracy and the ability to make big plays by using the talent you have outside and getting the ball to them quickly.
The fourth touchdown was another key example of inspired execution. Shotgun snap, two pumps and good accuracy on the wheel route to the running back for another big 60-yard score. The poise in the pocket kept things under control, the pumps created the space in behind and great touch on the throw.
There were also some negatives. Davis’ interception was just as bad as the two previous touchdown’s were good. Not enough velocity on the pass, it’s tipped up into the air and picked off. What was the read there? Three defensive backs, one receiver and throwing into a really tight area. If you’re going to attempt that pass, it needs to come out with much more venom – make it difficult for anyone to catch and hope your guy makes a play. It was a poor read, decision and execution. He should’ve been picked off again with 7:39 remaining in the first half. He does the hard bit – diagnosing the play, stepping into the pocket and away from pressure. However, his pass is weak across the middle and again needed more velocity – the linebacker steps in front of the ball and should’ve caught it.
On a handful of occassions, Davis didn’t do a good job on the option read particularly when pitching the ball. Considering it won’t be part of the pro-offense he eventually works within, I’m not that concerned with this issue. I’m more bothered that he missed on a couple of deep shots, one where two players had seperation down the field. Again, it’s worth noting the strong winds that were clearly having a big impact on both quarterbacks. He fumbled on a scramble which was careless, running into a teammate and letting the ball run loose.
Davis will work to succeed at the next level and that determination will, in my eyes, create at least a serviceable back-up. Could he become more than that? In a league that presents Kevin Kolb as a player worthy of two teams spending a cumulative amount of two second round picks and a cornerback drafted in the top-15 on his services, I wouldn’t rule out Davis getting his shot. In a ball control offense with talent at the skill positions, he can manage a successful unit. If the Seahawks aren’t going to be able to draft one of the top guys, they could do a lot worse than spend a pick on Austin Davis.