Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Look Who's Pleased with Himself Again

First we had a return of Duel with the Jews, now we have the return of my beloved pinata belching caramels:

Check out this story by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach on the evolution of the spread offense.

It reminds me a lot of what I wrote waaaay back in 2005:

This is why I’ve thought for a while now that the introduction of the Urban Meyer spread option to Florida will have a profound effect on the SEC and hence college football. The spread option has, until now, not been run by a team with a lot of talent. Like BYU’s system, it was very effective at a Mountain West Conference school. Now, it will be run with all the talent at Florida’s disposal, which makes one wonder if it will eventually have the same effect that Norm Chow’s offense had at USC…

What’s more interesting is how the SEC will respond if the Meyer system turns out to be a hit. The SEC has the best athletes in college football. As good as the elite teams in the SEC are now with those athletes, how good would they be with multi-faceted, multi-pronged offenses showcasing that talent?

The article upon which HeismanPundit claims victory is this piece from Mark Schlabach on the rise of the spread offense. Aside from driving me crazy by lumping a number of disparate offenses into the category of "spread," Schlabach's discussion of the historical roots of the spread is quite interesting. He gives a lot of credit to Mouse Davis, one of the inventors of the run 'n' shoot. One of the defining characteristics of Davis's offense was that he did not use a tight end, as he alludes to in the article:

"When we started running it, people would say, 'You just can't run it because it's so unsound,'" Davis said. "They'd all say, 'You have to have a tight end.'"

It makes sense that an offense that eschews the tight end would be a forefather to the modern spread. After all, the one characteristic that the Mike Leach offense has in common with the Rich Rodriguez offense is that they both deploy a number of receivers across the formation to force the defense to stretch its defense from boundary to boundary. If an offense has the tight end close to the formation, then it is limiting the degree to which it can spread the defense out. Tight ends, by definition, compress an offense.

(Note: there are exceptions to this maxim. For instance, Missouri runs a variant of the spread and they use their tight ends heavily. Michigan will probably use its tight ends heavily this year because Rodriguez inherited Kevin Koger from his predecessor. I would want to go back to watch Missouri tape to confirm this point, but I would submit that the spread doesn't really use a tight end. Rather, it lines up big guys at the slot receiver position and calls them tight ends. Thus, it's consistent with Mouse Davis's idea, even if a number of passes end up being thrown to the "tight end.")

So, college football has been taken over by an offense that does not use the tight end and was developed by a coach who was adamantly opposed to ever using the position. I'm pretty sure that there was a blogger who claimed that one of the defining characteristics of advanced modern offenses was their heavy use of the tight end:

6. You must throw to your tight ends or running backs with regularity and from your base formation.

That means that you don’t completely betray your intentions by bringing in packages for certain situations, much the way that Oklahoma would bring in Kejuan Jones as a third-down back, for example. About 95% of the time, his presence meant a pass. This was a very important point in the Orange Bowl and worthy of a brief digression:

The guy on defense whose primary responsibility is to cover the tight end is the strong safety. The defender whose primary responsibility is to cover running backs out of the backfield is the outside linebacker, usually the weakside backer. That’s Football 101. When I looked at the matchups before the Orange Bowl, I realized that Oklahoma doesn’t throw to its tight end very much and doesn’t throw to Adrian Peterson out of the backfield (AD had all of four catches in ‘04, I believe). Logically, I posited that that flaw in Oklahoma’s scheme would have the effect of freeing up USC’s strong safety and outside linebackers to cheat up and play the run, thus effectively neutralizing Adrian Peterson. That meant that all USC had to do from there was get a pass rush with its front four and force White to make plays. As it turns out, USC’s strong safety (Darnell Bing) made a season-high 10 tackles, while the weakside backer (Matt Grootegoed) not only had 7 tackles, but also was able to float around in coverage against receivers and grab an interception. To wit, it would not have been possible for these two players to have been this successful in this game had they been burdened with the usual responsibilities of their positions.

The fact that most SEC offenses–save Auburn–do not throw to their tight ends or backs creatively or with regularity out of their base formations lends us to believe that teams like Georgia would be at a distinct disadvantage against a team like Boise State. The point is granted by many that Boise may be able to move the ball at least somewhat on Georgia. What many then point out is that Boise will not be able to stop Georgia, since Boise is not known for its defense. But, we believe that the disadvantage to UGA from seeing the system thrown at them by Boise’s offense will be greater than the disadvantage thrown at the Boise defense by UGA’s rather vanilla offense. In other words, Boise’s defense won’t be seeing anything it hasn’t seen, while Georgia will be seeing things for the first time. This should enable Boise to control the tempo of the game, especially early on. The only remaining question is this: Is UGA’s talent advantage so overwhelming that Boise can’t overcome it with its scheme? Given Boise’s performances against teams like Oregon State and Louisville–teams with pretty good talent–and Georgia’s trouble with teams like Ga. Southern and Marshall–teams with less talent than Boise–I would answer that question in the negative. Throw in an erratic D.J. Shockley in his first start and Georgia may be playing things even more conservative than usual, which of course will play right into Boise’s hands.

Only HeismanPundit could claim victory by linking to an article that, in fact, refutes his basic idea as to what made an excellent scheme.


hp said...

What part of the phrase "tight ends or running backs" do you not understand?

If tight ends don't apply because you don't have them, then you throw to your running backs out of your base formation and not in 'packages'.

Point stands. Good offenses do this.

Finally, you are taking out of context a piece I did on what I considered the best offensive schemes in college football back in 2005. I never said they had to be spread schemes, though I did note that most of these schemes used some spread elements.

However, later on I did note in my quote that the specific spread brought by Meyer to the SEC would result in Florida's domination of the league and bring a change to the other offenses in that league. Point stands again.

I do not think 'pwned' means what you think it means.

Michael said...

1. If the spread is the dominant offense in college football (and we both agree that it is) and it eschews the use of tight ends, then using the tight end as a defining example of what modern offenses are doing is simply incorrect.

2. I must have missed all the throws that spread offenses were making to their running backs. Look at the passing numbers for Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oregon, Florida, and Michigan. Michigan was the only one of the five that had a back in its top five receivers and that was Sam MacGuffie, who filled a hybrid role after the coaches figured out that he couldn't take the pounding that a running back takes.

3. Sure, good offenses should spread the ball around so defenses can't focus on one or two receivers. That's a totally banal observation. You went beyond that to cite USC's use of the tight end as a defining reason why opposing teams could not handle them. 2005 Texas, for instance, was not going to be able to handle USC because they did not see opponents throw to the tight end. Remind me who caught the most balls in the USC-Texas national title game?

4. Regarding your last point, what would you make of Meyer's off-season quote that offense is about the "Jimmies and the Joes" rather than scheme? That would seem to be a logical conclusion for someone whose offense was somewhat ineffective for two years and then exploded when he had better talent.

chg said...

He was right on target about Boise State giving UGa problems though.

HP said...

1. Yes, the spread is the dominant offense in CFB. In 2005, you guffawed at the notion that it would come to dominate CFB, which of course is what I predicted. I believe you also were skeptical that it could work in the SEC, no? How's that working out? As for the point about the tight ends, again I stress that I wrote "tight ends OR backs" which means that if it's an offense with spread elements featuring a tight end (like, say, Missou or OU), then it applies. Same with spreads that do not have tight ends--they need to throw to their backs in base formation and not package things to create predictability.

2. I guess you must have missed Taurean Hendrson when he played for Texas Tech. And OU, Oregon and Florida all utilize the tight end, with Florida also throwing A LOT to its backs. You are getting bogged down in minutiae. The piece you quoted from wasn't about strictly spread teams, though it featured teams that were both pure spread and with spread elements mixed with other styles, while the piece I quoted from that you have a problem with was from a specific post about the spread of the spread and its effect on the SEC and CFB.

3. Most teams could not handle USC from 2002-2005. What's your point? And as for Texas, last I checked they gave up 565 yards to USC's offense in that game. It wasn't exactly a great defensive effort, was it?

4. I would regard it as humble coach speak. Of course, talent is important. But the point I made in the very piece I linked is that talent plus scheme brings about the most explosive offenses. A lot of talent with a lousy, predictable scheme will have trouble, just as a great scheme with horrible talent will.

Look. We had this discussion back in 2005 and I agree there were some micro areas where I was off base. But I got the big picture right, which was that this was an era of offense and that the best teams would be the ones that could best utilize the new schemes to their advantage. Can't see how you can disagree with this.