Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The greatest Lake Travis team in history?

At Big 12 media days yesterday I asked Baker Mayfield whether the Lake Travis team he played on could have beat the one that just competed for the 6A state title. The program is larger now then it was back then and is returning an absolutely loaded squad with a great shot to finally break through and win a 6A title after formerly dominating the 4A level back in Mayfield's day.

His response,
"Oh yeah, absolutely, there's not a question in my mind. If they'd have won state there might have been a competition but no, they didn't win state. There were talks about my junior year, the team we had being one of the best to ever play Texas football."
This was perhaps not the most fair comparison, since the 2015 Lake Travis team fell short as a result of running into another legendary buzzsaw in the Katy Tigers. That team had an absurdly good defense highlighted by a pair of disciplined safeties, some D1 prospects up front, and Tyrann Mathieu-approximate Jovanni Stewart.

I thought it'd be fun to go back and look at the 2011 Lake Travis Cavaliers and investigate Mayfield's claim to that enormous distinction.

An absurdly loaded spread offense

When head coach Hank Carter took over for Chad Morris at Lake Travis his plan was to carry on the legacy of having a brilliant spread attack but to also mix in a strong, 4-2-5 defense that would come to have the same kind of reputation.

There's no doubt that they were able to maintain the former and the 2011 Cavalier cast was loaded.

Obviously Mayfield led the way, and he unexpectedly took the starting job after uber-athlete Colin Lagasse hurt his shoulder in the first game of the year. Mayfield threw 378 passes for 3788 yards at 10 yards per pass with 45 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also ran the ball 139 times for 754 yards at 5.4 yards per carry with another 10 touchdowns. It was a brilliant season that everyone around the country somehow missed.

Lagasse was still able to serve as a RB/WR hybrid with 146 touches for 1312 yards at 8.98 yards per touch and 20 touchdowns.

The Cavs also had two leading receivers in Griffin Gilbert (53 catches, 1019 yards, 18 TDs) and Zach Austin (72 catches, 1340 yards, 16 TDs). Varshaun Nixon was the main back and though only a sophomore in a system with a ton of weapons, he still added 141 carries for 1250 yards at 8.87 yards per carry and another 15 TDs.

The mix of a shifty WR (Austin) and a tall guy that could be a target for sideline fades and end zone jump balls (Gilbert) has been a re-occuring theme in Cavalier football as we'll see later. They don't tend to have D1 deep threats on the roster but they can always find tall guys that can still take the top off and other players that are dangerous in the seams or quick game.

You can still find some of this 2011 skill talent around the state with Austin currently on the Texas Tech depth chart, Varshaun Nixon sitting this year out at TCU with an injury, and both Lagasse and Gilbert moved on from football after short stints with SMU and TCU respectively.

A perusal of their schedule sees them averaging 45.3 points per game and only dipping below 30 three times; once in the title game against Waco Midway and twice against district rivals Cedar Park.

A typical Hank Carter 4-2-5

Carter's 4-2-5 is somewhere in the realm of the Bob Shoop/Manny Diaz school of defense with "attack-backers" inside who can be regularly inserted into the front via the blitz combined with defensive linemen that can stunt and drop as needed.

Go find yourself some Lake Travis highlights from 2011, or any other year for that matter, and you'll see them bring all manner of blitzes from their base 4-2 Over-quarters defense. Their entire defense is marked by speed and versatility and they essentially have really well-rounded "jack of all trades" types at most positions.

They usually have at least one big, sturdy 3-technique defensive tackle to build around but the rest of the players are generally guys that may fit at one position but are capable of playing in multiple spots. They play hard and swarm to the football with abandon in a way that tells you the football culture in Lake Travis is strong (how many college Air Raid teams struggle to field defenses that play this hard?).

This style of defense is interesting and I wonder if we may began to see more of it in the college ranks as an alternative option for handling the spread to attempting to flood the field with top shelf athletes pidgeon-holed into limited roles so that they can play as fast as possible.

If you can't get good enough athletes to allow you to beat opponents by playing things simple and relying on execution, doesn't it make sense to go the other route and instead stock up on smart, versatile kids and out-scheming opponents?

The 2011 defense gave up 14.5 points per game so their average margin of victory was 30.8 points per game. In reality, only Cedar Park was able to even play them close and Johnathan Gray-led Aledo was the only team to break 30 points against them thanks to his 29 carry, 269 yard (9.28 ypc), four touchdown performance.

The 2016 Lake Travis squad

The 2016 Cavs are returning errbody from their 2015 runner-up season and have a lot of pieces in place similar to the 2011 squad. Instead of Mayfield they have another Brewer (Charlie) at QB and though he lacks Baker's wheels or arm strength he's no slouch.

His brother Cade is their Griffin Gilbert, big target in the passing game, Maleek Barkley is the Colin Lagasse, and receivers Cade Green and Mac Humble are competing to be this year's version of Zach Austin.

On defense they have their typical, building block 3-tech in 6'2", 270-pound Sam Ochoa and six other returning starters including big safety Austin Hiller who's committed to Northwestern.

They'll be loaded with guys that competed for last year's team and fell just short and they'll be hungry to silence comparisons such as Baker's and finally win Lake Travis' first 6A State title. They'll just have to beat out Sam Ehlinger's Westlake and whatever other super-teams are awaiting in the 6A playoffs...

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