Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pope Urban's Offense Explained

My formative Michigan football experiences have all involved losses to Notre Dame. I first started rooting for the Wolverines in the late 80s as my second favorite team (behind Auburn, but that's another story) because of the giant stadium, the great fight song, and my understanding that the school was full of Jews. Every September, the sign that college football had started was Michigan playing Notre Dame in a tight game and then losing. And Michigan had the most creative ways of losing. Loss despite not allowing an offensive touchdown? Check. Loss because of stubborn desire to show that Rocket Ismail could be tackled on a kickoff return? Check. Loss because of colossal mistake by Elvis Grbac? Check. Tie because of colossal mistake by Elvis Grbac? Check. (The bright side from those last two games was that I got to warn all of my in-laws, who are Baltimoreans, about Elvis when he signed with the Ravens in 2001.)

I matriculated at Michigan in 1993 and our first big home game was against a Notre Dame team that was a ten-point underdog. Michigan had walloped Washington State the week before, while Notre Dame and unknown quarterback Kevin McDougal had struggled to score against Northwestern. Lee Corso was predicting a 41-10 Michigan win. We were at home on a sunny day with an offense full of future NFL stars, playing a team missing almost all of its skill position talent from the previous year. So naturally, Notre Dame marched down the field on the opening drive, culminating in a long McDougal run (see, mobile quarterbacks and Michigan have a long history of making memories,) they got their obligatory touchdown from the return game, and ND won 27-23. I was taunted on the way home by a carload of elderly Irish fans and I was too young to know to blame them for the Holocaust.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I have no great love for Notre Dame, and therefore, my wholehearted endorsement of Blue Gray Sky as a great blog should mean something. Their piece on Notre Dame enemies is outstanding and someday, I hope to shamelessly adapt it for the Braves so I can bitch about Kent Hrbek and Eric Gregg once again. The splendidly-named Michael from BGS has written a great explanation of the Urban Meyer offense on Every Day Should Be Saturday, another fine publication. I highly encourage you to read it. Here are my thoughts:

1. The Meyer offense seems to be designed to make it easy for a quarterback to read a defense by spreading a defense out and forcing it to reveal its intentions, while the offense still retains the ability to do anything it wants. (It's the reverse of the dreadful Michigan offensive designs of the late 90s and early 00s, in which the personnel and formation determined what play was going to be run. Those Michigan offenses had a bunch of formations and few plays, which is the reverse of the Meyer or Charlie Weis offense. For that matter, the great Nebraska option offenses under Tom Osborne were also premised on running a few basic plays from a variety of looks.) In that sense, the Meyer offense is the perfect offense for college quarterbacks because it simplifies the game for them, although it also forces them to make a lot of decisions.

I'll be most interested to see how the Meyer offense does against a team like Miami (if they play in a bowl game,) which utilizes a basic 4-3 and basic coverages and relies on the superiority of its athletes, multiplied by the fact that they don't have to make too many complicated decisions. Would Miami stay in their basic 4-3 against Meyer's formations, thereby depriving his quarterback of the chance to read the defense before the play? By doing so, the defense would reveal that it's certainly in zone, but they would still be able to hide their blitz intentions. Georgia and Florida State also employ relatively simple defensive formations that ought to negate some of the advantages of the Meyer offense. I can't wait to see how his teams react to them.

2. Part of what excites me about the Meyer offense is that it smartly breaks down the barrier between receivers and running backs. Would anyone be upset if I started referring to it as Total (College) Football in homage to the Oranje? Can you imagine what a genuine hybrid player like Reggie Bush would do in an offense like this, not that Norm Chow lacked ways to use him or anything.

3. I'm intrigued by which defensive approaches will work best against this offense. The ideal would be a team that has great corners who can cover man-to-man and allow the safeties to come up to stop the run, but how many teams have four good corners who can be trusted not to get burned? And how many defensive coordinators will figure out that their best corners need to be in the slot, rather than out wide? (I can't wait to see where Jason Allen lines up for Tennessee on September 17. I bet that Chavis has him out wide because "that's where corners go.") Another ideal would be to have a dominant defensive line that can penetrate the backfield and redirect the option at the outset of every play. Absent an assumption that the defense has superior talent to the offense, what's the best scheme? Man coverage and blitzing? Two-deep zone? Man with deep safeties? I'm out of ammo on this one.


peacedog said...

I think Tyson Browning, sans fumbles, would excel in a role in this offense. You know, Hines Ward would have been great too (talk about a wrinkle. . .).

Michael said...

I'm all tingly imagining Steve Breaston or Desmond Howard in a role where they got to be the trailer on the option 5-10 times per game. Michigan has an incoming freshman named Antonio Bass who's supposed to be a thicker Breaston. He's already been told by the coaches that he's going to play.

From Georgia lore, how about Andre Hastings getting to carry the ball a fair amount?

peacedog said...

Would probably have done well. Terrance would have been pretty good in that roll as well, I think.

Orson Swindle said...

We think Urban Warfare's already caught on, thought Total Football is an elegant reference. (Is Holland the most underrated soccer country on the planet? Our favorite World Cup of all time was the '98 Holland team, the most clutch group of players we've ever seen. Dennis Kluivert rocked our world.)

What you'll see in response to the Meyer offense? Hmm..Chavis will be clueless. Bo Pelini at LSU will play them off and keep it all in front of the d. No idea what Bama's going to do; our bet is that Joe Kines blitzes the shit out of them.

peacedog said...

[quote](Is Holland the most underrated soccer country on the planet? Our favorite World Cup of all time was the '98 Holland team, the most clutch group of players we've ever seen. Dennis Kluivert rocked our world.[/quote]

You continue to out do yourself. I salute in your general direction.

Michael said...

I don't know if Holland is underrated, as their players are generally well thought of, but they do get the title of best team to have never won a World Cup. It was just their luck that their best teams played in World Cup Finals in Munich against Germany and Buenos Aires against Argentina. I assume you were impressed by Dennis Bergkamp and not Patrick Kluivert in '98; DB scored the great goal to knock Argentina out.

As for the response to "Urban Warfare," Chavis is more likely to blitz heavily and he doesn't have the corners to make the strategy work. Joe Kines is very much a bend but don't break guy. As for Pelini, I'm not sure. His Nebraska '03 defense was very aggressive. I bet he'll talk to Stoops before that game. I'd be very interested to hear what Bob says about stopping that offense.

peacedog said...

I thought his Holland comments were served with a dose of Sarcasm - perhaps I misread. They are the best team never to win the world cup, but they're also global soccer's biggest underacheivers in another sense. It's interesting that pre-Richt, UGA had a few things in common with them.

I don't know what Kines has been doing at Alabama, but he never blitzed once at Georiga. Word on the street has it that Donnan seized the reins a little bit in the 98 peach bowl and we blized some there and it certainly seemed to take UVA out of their rythm.

I really don't miss him at all.

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