Except in the days leading up to Signing Day, I don't write much about recruiting. I reference the gurus throughout the offseason to establish a baseline of expectations for guys who haven't played or haven't played much, but recruiting is it's own world; following its twists and vagaries is a full-time job, and there's still very little left to say at the end of the day.
All that is to say that I don't know much about Texan Shavodrick Beaver except his scintillating name -- "Shavodrick Beaver" nearly rivals undisputed cosmic master "God Shammgod" in this realm -- and his status as one of the top 10 or 20 incoming quarterback recruits in the country. Shavodrick is the kind of player who can go just about anywhere, as the cliché goes, and certainly is not the kind of player who typically decommits from Michigan to sign on with Tulsa, as Beaver did late last week. If he has another decommitment in him, it better come fast: He plans to enroll in the smallest university in Division I-A on Jan. 6.
This is the kind of recruiting story that interests me, specifically because of the presence of Hurricane offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the mad offensive scientist who literally wrote the book on a no-huddle, "fast break type of football game" as a wildly successful high school coach in Arkansas. Most coaches -- especially ones working shorthanded in terms of talent -- talk about control the clock and "shortening the game"; Malzahn writes about lengthening the game, making it a "five-quarter game" and putting unrelenting pressure on the defense. He hates to punt (it's no coincidence that, just three years after he left the scene with the infamous Springdale Mafia, another high school team in Arkansas won the state championship this year in part by refusing to punt under any circumstances).
Hemmed in during a rocky stint at Arkansas, Malzahn's offense at Tulsa led the nation in total offense in 2007 and finished second this year, partly by being very effective against terrible defenses and partly by getting off more plays than anyone else; only Oklahoma's 1,036 total plays bested the Hurricane's 1,007 this year, though TU led the nation in yards per play. Quarterback David Johnson became the first player this decade to throw a touchdown on at least 11 percent of his total passes.
This, plus two straight West Division titles in Conference USA, with guys like Johnson and his predecessor, Paul Smith, who weren't much as recruits or pro prospects. Shavodrick Beaver is definitely the former, and according to Rivals, very likely to become the latter, as well. So what happens now?
Mike Leach first caught everyone's attention, in the words of an NFL scout quoted by Michael Lewis in his oft-cited New York Times Magazine profile on Leach, for "finding new and better ways to extract value from his players." The last two years, Leach has had better talent -- Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell were both rare four-star recruits to Texas Tech -- and parlayed that value into Tech's first back-to-back New Year's Day appearances since 1938-39. This year's edition, running the same pass-heavy spread as the record-breaking who dats that preceded them, was a serious contender for the mythical championship.
So far, Malzahn has been the same kind of "value guy." His offense has been successful as it works its way up the chain; It would have been interesting to see it play out with the golden boy protegé, Mitch Mustain, if not for the presence of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the same backfield during Mustain's 8-0 run as the Razorbacks' starter in 2006 (and the crazy soap opera that followed).
Not to overstate Beaver's potential, but what should happen in this case is that Beaver takes command of Tulsa's offense in the spring (Johnson is an outgoing senior), has a rough but statistically impressive freshman campaign next and spends 2010-11 running roughshod over the rest of Conference USA while bigger schools beat down Malzahn's door for a coordinator position, at minimum. If it's something other than that -- say, three relatively low-scoring losses to the three best teams on the schedule in the final month, as Tulsa suffered this year to Arkansas, Houston and East Carolina after an 8-0 start -- then maybe this particular brand of "up-tempo, no-huddle" philosophy has reached its natural endpoint.