Austin Davis, Southern Miss defeats #6 Houston

December 4th, 2011 | Written by Rob Staton

Austin Davis threw four touchdowns in defeating #6 Houston

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.

32 Responses to “Austin Davis, Southern Miss defeats #6 Houston”

  1. So…makes reads, throws receivers open, good decision-making, scans the whole field, sells play-action, convincing pumps, accuracy and strength to get into tight windows. How well does he handle pressure in the pocket?

  2. Aaron says:

    He looked ok with dealing pressure in the pocket, at first glance. The offensive line did a hell of a job with pass protection, though.

  3. Doug says:

    hummmm,
    I just don’t see them passing on a top rate skill player for a project QB when they already have one in Portis. Guessing they’ll pick in the 15-20 range, of course the top 3 QB’s are gone. Why pick a 4th rated QB when they would have a #1or #2 at a skill spot of need?
    Only hope is a blockbuster trade up for Barkley…

  4. Jarhead says:

    I see a trade up becoming less and less likely with every win. I just don’t see us having the collateral to offer what a team will ask to get even Griffin. We will just not be in a proper position to have any enticing picks to give. So we had better start looking at later QB’s if we are going to make any moves for a QB at all. Unfortunately, in our projected and likely draft position, we will get a decent role player AT BEST. There will be no one left who will make any kind of dramatic impact with any kind of immediacy. The best case scenario is with our first round pick we can find someone who could potentially start next season. With the unfortunate way things have panned out, that would be a real stroke of luck if we even found that. Because if anyone thinks that Claiborne, Richardson, Dwight Jones, or Dre Kirkpatrick will be available after 15 is in for disappointment. Now that Miami is picking after Washington, it will most likely be WAS going for Barkley, and then Miami going for Griffin. Because who will be available at our draft position that will convince MIN or CAR that dropping back is worth it? They will get a much better player at a much more crucial position if they just stay put. Our best bet now is to shoot for a player who can potentially play some role on special teams in addition to their natural position. Get the most bang for our buck. And then field essentially the same team we put out there this year, and maybe next year things will just work out differently because you never can tell, am I right?

  5. Rob says:

    Doug – are you talking about taking Davis in round one? Because I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that.

  6. David says:

    I see the Vikings being good trade partners come draft time.

    I personally think the Browns stay with McCoy and just get more pieces around him, if they do trade up it would be to get a WR, an Explosive player (blackmon, Jones) one of those or even a Richardson.

    it would be nice to trade this years 1st and next years 1st and maybe throw in some other picks or pieces to move up.

    With Rice being IR’d it gives plenty of time to gauge Tates Value, it will be interesting this off season if Tate performs well (last two games has had 2 tds and 3 on the year) I think he will be worth something to some teams looking for young talent.

  7. Doug says:

    Ya, I thought that’s what you meant since we weren’t going to have a shot at any of the big 3. Later rounds as a flier I’m OK with. I still seem to think that Portis might be the guy Pete and John are planning on for the QBOTF.
    I would love it if you started informing us of other players that will be available in the 10-20 slots where we will be picking. I personally see a DL or a CB as our first pick…

  8. STUFR says:

    Rob,
    On this same train of thought, what about Kellen Moore? He might be a great pick in round 2-3.

  9. Rob says:

    Hey STUFR.

    I’ve given Moore an UDFA grade, I don’t think he has a future at the next level.

  10. JC says:

    Why does there seem to be an overwelming desire for the Seahawks to drft a corner if there’s not a suitable quarterback? Sherman is good to very good. Browner is frusterating with his penalty prediliction, but is more than offset with 4 INTs and 16 deflections. Assuming Thurmond comes back healthy there’s the nickle corner, so why draft one in the 1st? Depth? Isn’t that what rounds 3-7 are for?

    Based on age, pending free agency and/or so-so production, I see a much bigger need for a starter or key rotational cog in the front seven than the back field.

  11. dave crockett says:

    What do people think about Case Keenum?

  12. dave crockett says:

    Re: Keenum.

    I get that the video game numbers don’t translate to the NFL, but do people think he make pro throws?

  13. Brian Miller says:

    I would be interested to know your grade of Josh Portis now in comparison to some of your later round QB’s in the upcoming draft. If Portis were coming out with what we know about him now – what would he be rated on your board in terms of what the ‘Hawks need.

  14. Colin says:

    I tend to agree with your thinking JC. I really don’t see us getting a corner in round one. I’d rather us upgrade the pass rush. That will make Sherman and Browner look even better. Walter Thurmond wasn’t too shabby either when he’s healthy. But it’s all about the best player available on the board.

    Free agency and then the draft will be an exciting time.

  15. Rob says:

    Dave – I’ve seen Keenum in three games and I think he’s a low end backup option. Struggles with arm strength and while it’s not the be-all and end-all, I struggle to see how he fits in the NFL where he’ll need to hit tight windows.

    Brian – It’s impossibly to judge Portis. We have a few snaps vs San Diego where he did very well and some other pre-season action where he looked a little erratic. College tape is practically non-existent. Placing any faith in his talents is purely placing faith in JC and PS’s ability to judge and groom a guy sufficiently. Hopefully they’ll find a diamond in the rough.

  16. Jarhead says:

    I think that everyone has us leaning towards a CB is because there is absolutely no value for DL in our current position. We could easily trade back to late first/early second and get a similar quality pick for a DL. There is just a higher level of skill available at the DB position at our current draft spot. Plus DB’s can return punts and kicks to take some pressure off Washington. I personally feel we should take a shot at a LB because they could come in and start over Leroy Hill with the player we could get at our spot. Richardson is going to be gone, he would be my first choice. Lamar Miller is no where near worth the pick at our spot. So I say we go for LB, and get a starter. That’s about all we can hope for with how our season has turned out. And just hope against hope that Portis is somehow a decent QB. That’s a long shot, but what else to we have to cling to right now? The alternative is kind of deperessing

  17. Peter says:

    Rob,

    With all of your write-ups about Davis, I was wondering, why Davis? What tipped you off to the idea of him in the first place? There seems to be a decent amount of college players who dominate in one or more aspects but you seem to, rightfully so, dismiss them (Moore, Keenum.)

    It’s because of you that I actually follow college football, to finally try to discern the differences between the players and not follow the big time “draft experts.”

    Anyways keep up the great work.

  18. Tom says:

    Austin needs to go to a team with a 30 yo+ Qb that he can learn from and he doesn’t fit where the Hawks are at in this rebuild.

    Maybe a Raider team to compete with Pryor as backup to Palmer. Saints could groom a backup as Brees will be 33 and that kid from Mizzou isn’t bonafide. Those are the type of teams that should be drafting AD unless he fell to round 6. With the way we’ve snagged Sherman and Kam in rounds 5, those rounds no longer look like taking a project for the heck of it rounds. Pete and John are finding some nice ballers and kudos to those 2.

    We definitely need a pass rusher but browner / sherman / and an injured WT3 won’t cut it against elite passing teams. It’s a chicken and egg paradox. The pass rush helps the CB’s but when playing press and disrupting routes, the cb’s can really help the pass rush as the QB has to hold the ball that extra 1/2 second and splat.

    It all comes down to value and prospect depth at those respective positions.

  19. Rob says:

    Peter – thanks for visiting the blog and I’m glad we’ve been able to provide a service over the years. Comments like yours make the hours of work all worth the while. as for Davis – merely tape review. He caught my eye last season and I monitored his progress, to the point of interviewing him and tracking his success. He’s got a great attitude and work rate – the type of guy that has success when few expect it. He’s not a spectacular player like Griffin III or Luck/Barkley, but I wouldn’t bet against him working out a career at the next level.

  20. [...] As I mentioned yesterday, this isn’t what you’d call ‘picking apart’ an offense. It was far from a perfect performance, and I’ve seen Davis perform a lot better. However, the conditions were very windy and Southern Miss were big underdogs on the road against #6 Houston. Davis had four touchdowns on the day and helped his team to a big victory. If you look at the plays at 2:53, 3:49 and 6:18 you’ll see why I think there’s something to work with here. For more of a breakdown, see my article from yesterday. [...]

  21. Zoo says:

    If we pick in 15 to 20, I expect John/Pete will get the best available athlete. We have alot of needs, and I’m willing to go with TJ another year if we’ve got Marshawn and our projected starting OL next year. Don’t we really need a #1 receiver that can get seperation and stay healthy? Don’t we need pass rush help? If we don’t pay Marshawn, then we need a young workhorse RB…

  22. Rob says:

    Clearly the Seahawks have other needs, but they are all majorly insignificant compared to the long term future at the QB position. This team can’t keep saying ‘next year’. I can only say at this stage I’m not convinced there’s an obvious quarterback worth a first round grade for 2013. I’ve not seen a player in college football this year that makes me believe he’ll be there. That can change in 12 months, but it’s no guarantee. Then what? Another year of Tarvaris Jackson? Another re-tread? Or be aggressive to draft a QB in a year when there’s some pretty good players there? This situation needed to be addressed years ago, eventually the Seahawks need to sort this out. Fast.

  23. Jarhead says:

    Now Rob, here’s where I ask my question? Why would CAR or MIN agree to drop all the way back to 15, pick up an additional 2nd, perhaps 4th, and a unknown 1st nest year, when they also have needs to fill and could get some really impressive pieces for their own teams? We undoubtedly need to trade up to get a really great qb, but after the Griffin hype machine has taken off I see him going in the top 7 as well. So is it even possible for us to make that trade anymore, given where we’re likely to finish on the draft order? That’s what I’m skeptical of now. Cause that’s a big stretch. -I know ATL made a similar move for Jones, but can we agree that is an entirely different draft with a way different sense of need and urgency from teams

  24. Rob says:

    Well Jarhead, I guess you could ask why did Cleveland trade down last year when they could’ve drafted a guy like Julio Jones themselves (given their huge need for playmakers). There were also quarterbacks available, not to mention big name defensive line talent. They had a plan which included doing a deal to move down and targeting a guy like Phil Taylor later on. Whose to say Carolina or Minnesota won’t have a similar plan? Predicting trades is kind of like playing the lottery – we also wish we could’ve guessed the outcome before it happened, but it was impossible. Trades happen in every draft, so I wouldn’t rule anything out in December. A lack of truly elite talent at the top of the board may entice teams to make deals. After all – it’s not like Minnesota will draft Trent Richardson.

  25. Jarhead says:

    I suppose that’s all we can do is keep an open mind, I mean if it doesn’t make sense to us. But we’re not the ones planning everything out. That’s what has got me so perplexed, with a 100 different ways things can go, who knows what the best way to go is?

  26. David says:

    Jarhead-
    kind of like this last years draft, now i wasnt involved in College football at all so when the hawks picked carpenter, I was a little shocked, cuz i had never heard of him and everyone was criticizing the Hawks FO, and it actually worked out great, i mean minus the injuries but that was and will be a good O-line to have.

    I see the panthers,vikings,eagles,maybe even the Jags as trade partners, eagles arent going to trade with the skins (well you wouldnt think so) and the eagles are in the top 10 maybe 7 i believe the last time i checked, i wouldnt be surprised if the eagles just stock up picks and when a year comes they will use them to move up somewhere.

  27. j says:

    I would like an accurate qb. if he’s not accurate let’s not worth mentioning his name

  28. tj says:

    Not really sure how you get Moore as an undrafted free agent but you see Davis being drafted.

    I’m a USM fan but Moore is better than Davis in literally every single aspect outside of mobility.

  29. Rob says:

    I’d disagree strongly, TJ. Techincally there are a lot of unreported issues with Moore’s throwing motion and his inability to drive passes beyond 8-10 yards. He’s very static in the pocket. He’s practically been untouched for four years (13 sacks) while others get sacked 20+ times in a single season… I’d expect Davis to thrive in the environment. The thing with Moore, at the next level he’s going to face outside pressure and he’s going to need to make three steps and drive a ball quickly. He won’t be able to do it. He’s got a long release which often isn’t discussed, and his footwork can only be described as awkward. Davis will be able to make those plays.

  30. TJ says:

    Looks like we have multiple TJs. tj and I are not the same person. Being a Boise State alum, I have watched every game Moore has played for these past 4 years. I’m not sure what it is that makes him such a special QB other than his intelligence, anticipation, and accuracy. He reminds me a lot of Ty Detmer, the Heisman winning QB from BYU in the early 90s. As much as I would love to see him succeed in the NFL, he does strike me as someone who will struggle at the next level. Although, before his first start as a freshman at University of Oregon, he also struck me as someone who would struggle as a D1 college QB. Shows what I know.

  31. TJ says:

    Just to be clear what I meant …as a freshman on the road against the University of Oregon…

  32. I’ve read some of your stuff on AD before, and think it’s really cool that you’re so high on him. We, at Southern Miss, have loved watching him work his magic over the last four years, and will be sad to see him go. Really hoping he gets picked up during the draft. Would love to see him go to the Saints and study under Brees for a few years, but I could definitely see myself becoming a Seattle fan if he gets pulled up there. One correction on your article, and your most recent article about Davis. This was Southern Miss’ 5th C-USA Championship (the most of any team in the conference). I think the confusion comes from this being Southern Miss’ first time to win the championship game, which has not always been in place. Also, regarding your statement about Southern Miss rarely seeing success, Southern Miss has seen nothing but success since it began it’s football program. In 100 years, we’ve never had a coach with a losing (overall) record, and have had very few losing seasons. We’ve had 18 winning seasons in a row, and 10 bowl games in a row. Probably more info than you cared to know, but just wanted to clear it up. Good luck the rest of the season, and keep up the good work on AD!