By Brian Paglia
Watching from the sidelines, Riverdale football coach Nick Davis saw his future. As a defensive player with Georgia Southern from 1990 to 1993, Davis became a Paul Johnson disciple, even though Johnson, now head coach at Georgia Tech, was an assistant at Hawaii at the time.
By the time Davis was doing his part in winning a Division I-AA national championship in 1990 and Southern Conference championship in 1993, Johnson's offense was the Eagles' creed. To most it was archaic, but to Davis, it was a tool that he's brought to every coaching job he's had at the high school level.
"When you win like we did when I was at Georgia Southern with not very talented [players] - I wasn't a very talented player - but we had a lot of average guys that really believed in the system," Davis said, "worked really hard and it afforded us the opportunity to be in ball games and win championships."
And that's where you could find Davis at Tuesday's practice: stalking his offense even after the Raiders' 31-10 victory over Lovejoy on Friday.
It was just a week earlier that Riverdale's offense was sluggish in a 16-0 loss to North Clayton. With the Raiders (1-1, 1-0) behind for the most of the game, quarterback Michael Adams had to use his arm more than his legs. But his receivers failed him. They dropped eight passes, and Adams finished 2-of-12 for just 31 yards and one interception.
Things didn't go well on the ground either. Adams rushed for only 21 yards on 16 carries. In fact, Riverdale's leading rusher was its fullback, Juwhan Arnold, who had 69 yards on 13 carries. And then came Friday when those dropped passes turned into game-changing receptions and the option dominated Lovejoy through four quarters.
"That North Clayton game, not taking anything away from North Clayton, Coach Hackney and his staff did a great job getting those kids ready to play, but for some reason we didn't show up," Davis said. "And that's the thing I'm trying to tell them. We can't just turn it on and off. We've got to be consistent all the way through."
So Davis was back to tinkering with his offense Tuesday, back to teaching Adams and the backfield the proper reads to make for blocking assignments and pitching opportunities, back to perfecting the system that helped Davis lead the Raiders to a 14-8 record and two playoff appearances in his first head coaching stint at Riverdale in 2003 and 2004.
His most critical task, to implant in Adams and back-up Carlos Alvarez's minds the nuances and awareness necessary to run the triple-option, is still a work in progress. Adams and Alavrez missed numerous reads against North Clayton. Their greatest challenge is sifting through the catalog of plays that correspond to how the defense lines up to stop the offense and picking the right one.
"[Adams] has got to do a better job of reading the defenses, putting us in the best play possible when we come to the line of scrimmage, because he has the freedom of checking to different players," Davis said. "We teach him, 'Look, if we get this look, this is what we want.' That's where he's got to improve for Friday nights. So if he improves on that aspect, we'll be fine."
And so far defenses have tried everything. North Clayton's method was certainly successful, but Lovejoy used four different formations Friday to try to halt the Raiders dogged attack to no avail.
Now, it's Westlake's turn this Saturday, and Davis hopes the team that seemed to turn the corner against Lovejoy shows up again this week.
"We've got to get ready to play a tough Westlake team," Davis said. "People are still excited about the win last week, but we've got to get ready for this Saturday."
On every third series on offense, Adams runs to the sideline and lets Alvarez take his turn behind center. It's a formula Davis feels is necessary both for Adams' protection and Alvarez's development.
"You run the option you take the chance of the quarterback getting hit and getting hurt," Davis said. "So the No. 2 guy has to be ready."
It's also allowed Adams more time to spend in a cluttered and talented Raiders secondary. Davis said many schools are scouting Adams for his defensive ability at cornerback.
Ready To Run Again
Arnold, who sat out practice Tuesday for the second straight day with a bruised knee he suffered against North Clayton and caused him to miss the game against Lovejoy, should start in the Raiders' game against Westlake, according to Davis.