Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis has indicated that the zone read, which Texas began to incorporate as the focal point of its offense in 2003, will remain a big part of the Longhorn attack. And while nobody will ever confuse Garrett Gilbert with Vince Young in terms of running ability, Longhorn fans got some reassurance Thursday night that, with their quarterback of the future, the offense as they know it will be in good hands (and feet).
Gilbert, who threw for more than 4,800 yards and 52 touchdowns as a junior, showed Thursday that he can also be effective with his feet. The first commit of the Longhorns’ 2009 recruiting haul threw for 212 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 82 yards and three touchdowns en route to leading Lake Travis, the No. 1-ranked team in the state of Texas in Class 4A, to a convincing 38-17 road victory over Austin Westlake.
Gilbert improved his career record to 25-4 as a starter as Lake Travis notched its first ever victory in three meetings against Westlake, a program that has long been the measure of excellence in high school football in the greater Austin area.
Gilbert faced an offseason full of question marks following a junior campaign that saw him set new state single season passing records for yards, completions, and attempts while leading Lake Travis to the Class 4A Division II state championship. The questions were not only how Gilbert would grasp new head coach Chad Morris’ spread offense, which features a lot of motion, multiple formations, and operates at a breakneck pace, but also how he would bounce back after February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Through two games, Gilbert seems to have answered those questions, and more. He totaled 312 yards passing and three TDs in a season-opening win over Westwood last week, and followed that up with another strong performance through the air and on the ground this week.
When Inside Texas caught up with Gilbert at the 7-on-7 State Championships in College Station over the summer, the 6-foot-4 inch gunslinger looked as though he had added some bulk to his frame. Such was the case as Gilbert said he was weighing in at an even 200 pounds back in July as he spent his offseason soaking in the playbook and getting bigger.
“I got to work on a lot of footwork which is great because that was something I needed a lot of work on,” said Gilbert. “I did a lot of lifting and getting strength in my legs and getting faster were really key things for me.”
The leg strength was evident in the Cavaliers’ blowout victory over Westlake as Gilbert was able to push piles, make defenders miss and refused to go down after the first hit. Gilbert even now looks to be bigger than 200 pounds and is listed by the Lake Travis coaches at 210. He also looks quicker and faster than he ever has thus far in his prep career.
Fifty-three of Gilbert’s 83 rushing yards on the night came on the Cavaliers’ first series as he toted the rock six times, including on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line when he plowed his way across the goal line to cap a 10-play, 78-yard drive to give Lake Travis an early 7-0 lead.
Westlake was able to narrow it to 14-10 before the end of the first half when the Lake Travis defense stopped a potential scoring drive by the Chaps with an interception near the goal line.
Taking over in the shadow of the Lake Travis goal post, Gilbert made a heads up play on second-and-long from inside the one-yard-line as he avoided a sack, rolled to his left and just appeared to make it outside of the tackle box before throwing the ball away. On the next play Gilbert hit Cade McCrary on a rollout to his right for a first down to keep the drive alive, showing great arm strength. Gilbert was very calm on the drive and showed great poise on the series, which ended when Gilbert hit Chris Aydam on a tailback wheel for a 48-yard score to finish off an impressive nine-play, 95-yard drive that took only 1:59 off of the clock.
From there it was all Lake Travis. Though Westlake kept the Cavs within range in the early goings, Gilbert and Lake Travis pulled away, winning by a final of 38-17.
All night, as he has done throughout his career, Gilbert made good decisions with the football. His completion percentage (14-of-30) was under his average, but he got rid of the ball when necessary. His arm strength was impressive as was his poise in the pocket and his leadership ability.
Paving the way for Gilbert and the Lake Travis rushing attack was Paden Kelley, the bell cow of the Cavaliers offensive line and one-fourth of an impressive offensive line class that the Longhorn coaching staff has assembled for Signing Day ‘09.
Kelley was locked up one-on-one most of the night with Westlake’s David Durham. Durham got the best of him on a few snaps while Kelley was at his best when he did the little things like sinking his hips, latching on to his defender and running his feet. The combination of those three often led the Kelley mauling defenders to the ground as he did a good job of finishing blocks when locked on to a defender and showed to be very good at pulling and getting around the corner on counter plays. He also showed to have a good grasp of his technique in pass protection. He has excellent feet for a big man and looks like he can add weight to his 6-foot-5-inch frame.
Colt McCoy’s 100-yard rushing effort in the Longhorns’ season opening win over Florida Atlantic showed that the Texas offense will not lose the principle of having a quarterback that can do damage on the ground. If Thursday night is any indication, the zone read will continue to be a major part of the offensive scheme in Austin for the foreseeable future.