This was largely described as a disappointing performance by the media, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. The game was littered with offensive line penalties putting Davies in not-ideal 3rd and long situations. There were some key drops and a perfect pass at the end of the first quarter would’ve gone for a touchdown but for a blatant hold on the receiver that wasn’t called. On a go-route downfield, Davis throws nicely into the back of the end zone but his receiver – seemingly not expecting the ball – hesitates for some reason and checks back, losing a step and then missing what would’ve been a pretty simple touchdown catch. Southern Miss generally looked a bit off which isn’t surprising given the ‘job done’ element of their win over Houston and the fact their coach Larry Fedora has since accepted the vacant position at North Carolina. For what it’s worth, I think that’s a great appointment by UNC.
At the same time, this wasn’t the usual polished Austin Davis performance. One play sticks in the mind – it was a pretty simple post route where he just threw high. I think he expected the receiver to run deeper before making his cut, but Davis didn’t adjust well enough and threw the ball away from his target. That was an adjustment I’ve seen him make in the past time and time again, but the fact he missed generally summed up his performance on the whole – there was a slight lack of sharpness. It contradicted one of the things I like about Davis - his ability to improvise. It’s a skill often lost among QB grades yet for me is so crucial at the next level. In the NFL a defense will keep giving you different looks, you’ll think a play call is adequate and then the unexpected happens and you have to react. Being able to get out of that situation and make a first down is paramount to a quarterbacks success – it flashes poise, field vision and good decision making.
Being able to make those decisions in unfavorable situations is even more important. On 1st and 10 inside his own ten-yard line, Davis takes a shotgun snap and fakes the hand-off. He’s looking down the middle of the field for a crossing route that isn’t on, so he pumps and then looks to his right for a completion and a first down. It’s a decisive read and execution in the face of adversity despite having pressure in his face. That’s what I’ve come to expect from Davis in the last two years.
On the same drive he shows off his under-rated mobility. Penalties against the offensive line force Southern Miss into 3rd and 18, but Davis almost makes the first down with his legs after sensing an opening to his left hand side and scrambling into space. He is capable of catching a defense off guard to break off runs, but his athleticism will also enable him to extend plays – a more crucial aspect looking ahead to the NFL.
He’s worked very hard to improve his arm strength and last off-season added some upper body muscle to generate greater velocity. It’s clear he’s not going to be a big-time downfield passer with an arm for the ages. On intermediate throws there’s a level of inconsistency. In this game there were two shorter range passes where the ball floated and took too long to get to the target. Both were completed, but in the NFL that pass has to have more zip or it’s getting broken up as a best case scenario. At other times, he’s capable of fitting passes into tight windows with just enough juice. The velocity on his quick slant and outside slant is good enough. That gives me some encouragement that there’s room for further work. A lot of quarterbacks – Tom Brady included – have vastly improved their arm strength in the pro’s. Davis has the frame to add further weight and continue improving, but right now it’ll work against him in terms of draft stock.
I’ve always liked Austin Davis in the red zone – he’s very productive and doesn’t make many mistakes. If the pass isn’t on, he throws it away. He’s very good on the back shoulder and traditional fade to the back of the end zone. In a short field with a lot happening in front, Davis excels. His first touchdown in this game was a throw put into an area where only his receiver can catch it right behind the defensive backs’ helmet. It’s a catchable ball, it’s well executed and Davis deserves credit for keeping his composure right at the end of the first half with a lot of penalties going on in an unusually elongated drive with a short field.
With the game drifting into a defensive battle at 17-17, he makes two big plays to set up the game winning score. The first is a well driven outside slant forcing the ball into the receivers hands and allowing him to break off a big gain. The second is textbook, three step drop with three defenders in his face. Davis steps up into the pocket and with a crowded midfield somehow locates an open receiver for a smart completion. Good composure and field vision, nice accuracy too. It sets up a touchdown pass in the red zone where Davis makes one read to his right, rejects it, then has to move away from pressure on his blind side before fitting a pass into another tight window for the score. He does well to extend the play, find a receiver and also act quickly against the pressure.
At no point in the game did he come close to a turnover. There were no close calls and Davis made enough plays to win against a tough, well prepared Nevada defense. We shouldn’t mistake Davis for a player who is going to make a late surge into first round contention. However, he certainly warrants more credit than he’s currently receiving on a national scale. There’s something to work with – he’s a technical player with mobility and room for further development. I’ve said it many times on this blog that if the Seahawks are looking for quarterbacks beyond round one then Davis is one to keep a firm eye on.