>Wednesday Lunch: Spread ‘Em

Posted: March 3, 2010 in ncaafb
Tags: , , , ,

>   Welcome to Wednesday lunch, I’m Dylan back with the latest and greatest college football trends and news. I’m gonna throw out a list of teams and see if you can figure out what they have in common:

2.   Texas
3.   Florida
4.   Boise State
6.   TCU
8.   Cincinnati
9.   Penn State
11.   Oregon
12.   BYU
18.   Utah
19.   Miami (FL)
21.   Texas Tech
23.   Central Michigan
25.   West Virginia

   Yes, all of these teams finished in the top 25 this past year. Yes, all of these teams won at least 9 games. Yes, all of these teams employed shitty coaches (oh wait; only Brian Kelly and Mike Leach defecated on their former teams). But what truly unites all of these teams is one overarching principle: the spread offense.

   Football is a very fundamental game at its core. Whoever scores the most points wins. To score points you have to get the ball into the end zone for a touchdown or through the uprights for a field goal. To get touchdowns and field goals you have to move the ball down the field. Sounds pretty simple right? It is, until you remember that there are 11 snarling, nasty, muscular, athletic freaks trying to stop you from reaching your goal. That’s where offensive game planning comes in. From the time the forward pass was legalized back when this guy was a freshman in college until the present day, coaches have come up with plenty of different offensive ideas to outsmart defenses and pile up the points. The veer, or option, was a huge trend starting in the late 1960’s until Butch Davis, who was the defensive line coach for Miami in the late 80’s and early 90’s decided it would be a good idea to put lots of huge fast guys on defense. Really? It took more than 20 years to figure that out? No one thought of that? To be fair, Miami had access to the some of the best athletes in the country, but you’d think that would be the first thing coaches would have thought of.
   Many coaches since then have tried to bring pro style offense to the college ranks with varying amounts of success. Pete Carroll had plenty of weapons during his time at USC (Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Lendale White, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith 2.0, etc…) and he utilized the pro-style offense to perfection in capturing 7 straight conference championships and a couple national crowns too. Bill Callahan also brought a pro-style offense to the college ranks when he coached Nebraska, but that didn’t work out so well as he went 27-22 in 4 years. Did the Cornuhuskers do any research at all before they hired him? Did they realize that he had just been fired as head coach of the Raiders? This joke is almost too easy to make, so I’ll let you do it. Go ahead; insert your own Raider joke here.
Hahahaha, that was a good one!

   Anyways… moving on. As you can see, there were varying degrees of success with the pro-style offense in the college ranks, and a lot of it depended on the talent surrounding the system. A lot of coaches across the country were trying to figure out how to better utilize the talent they recruited. There are varying opinions as to who actually thought of this next idea, so I’ll skip that part, but the thinking went something like this for a few coaches: I have a lot of great athletes that I can play at the same time. If I can match these athletes up in space one-on-one they can make plays with there athleticism. If they have open field they can run really fast and far and score touchdowns. If they do that we will win and I can jump to a bigger school for more money (I didn’t say this is exactly what they were thinking, but it doesn’t sound that far off, does it?). Out of these thoughts came some early version of the spread offense. The point of the spread offense is to space your playmakers evenly across the field to give them space to make plays with the ball. Think of it this way, if you have Percy Harvin would you rather have him run straight ahead into the line and try to pick up a few yards, or would you put him out in space and try to make one or two guys miss to get lots of yards? Exactly. As the spread evolved coaches realized that there were a couple ways to do things. We’re gonna break this down using a few well known teams as examples.

   The Texas Tech method: Pass. Pass. Pass some more. This was Mike Leach’s philosophy during his time at Texas Tech. He spread his wide receivers out and filled the air with footballs. Even though the defense knew that the pass was coming, they didn’t know exactly when or where, so this offense was effective.

   The West Virginia method: I know that Michigan now employs Rich Rodriguez, but he actually had success at West Virginia with this offense, and he used his time more wisely too. This offense utilizes the run game, and more specifically, the option. Remember the veer I talked about earlier? West Virginia took that offense, put the Quarterback in shotgun, and spread the offensive lineman. This made more space between the defenders and let Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Noel Devine run roughshod over opposing defenses.

   The Missouri method: This offense takes principles form many different places. They pass like Texas Tech. They run kind of like West Virginia. If executed properly with the right mix of weapons, this is the most dangerous type of offense because now the defense not only has no idea where the ball is going, they also have no idea if a run or a pass is coming.

   The Florida method: This is nearly the same as the West Virginia offense in that they both use option principles, but Florida has had a few distinct differences over the past few years, Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow. Florida runs many option plays, but usually has more than two options. The Quarterback can run, give to the tailback, pitch to the tight end, throw it, etc… What makes them different is that use quarterback dives and wide receiver running plays so much more than any other team.

   Every spread offense is different in its own special way and the potency of the attack is usually predicated on the effectiveness of the quarterback distributing the ball. That’s why teams that Pat White, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford quarterbacked were hugely successful. Defenses are already coming up with defenses focused around stopping the spread and we may soon be moving to a new trend in offenses. Who knows, this could be the future of football in America. Until that time comes, just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

   As promised last week, I have a column gimmick for all of the people who have realized that they care nothing about what I’m saying and only want quick entertainment. In true gimmick fashion, I have taken someone else’s idea, twisted it around slightly, and called it revolutionary. My colleague Evan Ream has a weekly top 10 list about soccer. I am now unveiling my top 5 list. That’s right, Top 5. Not only is my list more exclusive than his, therefore making it better, I will only be unveiling one part of the list each week. Not only does this draw out the suspense, it makes me have to think of fewer ideas. College football is an ever changing sport that is difficult to appreciate if you do not witness the moments, or hear about them soon after. That is why all of my lists will include events, players, and teams from my lifetime. Any happening from the past 20 years is fair game, and of course, these lists are totally subjective, since this is a blog.

   My first list will be of the 5 most exciting players of my lifetime. Since offense is naturally more fun for me to watch than defense, this list will include only offensive players (sorry Charles Woodson, Eric Berry, and Ndamukong Suh).

5.   Michael Vick- Before he was a dog fighter or any thing like that (again, insert way to easy Michael Vick dog-fighting joke here) Michael was an electrifying playmaker for the Virginia Tech Hokies. One of my first college football watching memories that is still clear is watching Vick dance and juke through Florida State’s defense in the 2000 Sugar Bowl. He was always an iffy passer but his weaving runs were magical and I will always remember the way he could bring a crowd to its feet and jump-start an entire offense with one play.

   That’s all the time we have for today’s lunch, but join me next week for more college football insight and a dandy double top 5 entry.

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