1. Reports of the demise of the “Spread” have been greatly exaggerated.
I’m looking at you, Gary Danielson and others revanchists who reveled in Texas and Florida using pro-style passers as evidence that the spread offense was going away. Florida’s offense was a disaster, even when Mike Pouncey wasn’t doing his best Mackey Sasser impression. Texas produced 369 yards and 5.3 yards per play against Rice, a team that allowed 464 yards per game and 6.6 yards per play last year. (Counter: Rice returns nine starters on defense. Counter-counter: they’re Rice.) These two paragons for the return of old fashioned running and play-action looked significantly worse on offense against weak opponent, even when one accounts for the fact that some drop-off is to be expected when they are replacing a pair of iconic quarterbacks.
In contrast, Oregon put forth an offensive performance for the ages: 59 points by halftime against New Mexico. Michigan looked great on offense with Rich Rodriguez finally having found his Pat White/Woody Dantzler facsimile. (Question for Florida fans: you’d rather have Denard Robinson running your offense, wouldn’t you? Even if he doesn’t have that extra star from Rivals like John Brantley does?) Auburn put up 608 yards at 9.4 yards per play against Arkansas State.
What do these three teams have in common? Quarterbacks who present a running threat, which is kinda the whole point of the Spread ‘n’ Shred. This offense remains a really good way to move the football as long as a team has the right personnel, starting with a quarterback with speed whose presence on the field creates panic in the back seven, running lanes for the backs, and empty spaces for the receivers. Brian Cook, illustrate what I'm saying:
I have never seen two guys running wide open in as much space as Stonum and Robinson did on the late Robinson-to-Robinson connection. There was one safety trying to figure out which guy to cover and literally no one else for twenty yards. RPS +3, baby. That's the kind of thing that happens in these offenses when the quarterback is such a threat on the ground. When Pat White threw deep, most of the time he was doing so to wide open guys. It's like when Debord ran a waggle for big yardage, except the base offense's run game picks up like six yards a play.
I’d be an idiot to claim that the Spread ‘n’ Shred is the only way to go. As Brian Kelly and Mike Leach have shown in recent years, a pass-based spread is also effective, but a team has to be very good in the passing game to make it work. What a team can’t do is to try what Florida is looking to do: run the Tebow plays without Tebow under center.
2. Georgia’s trip to Columbia just got a lot bigger.
Even if Florida sorts out their snap issues, they are going to have problems on offense all year. If they adapted their offense to account for the fact that they have a stationary passer, then they would have potential, but I didn’t see that yesterday. Their upside appears to be the Chris Leak offense, which never went over 400 yards per game. The Gators’ defense looks fine (although how much can you really tell from a game at home against Miami of Ohio?), but Florida looks like they are taking a major step back on offense. Steve Addazio isn’t smart enough to modify the offense to emphasize the passing game.
So where does this leave Georgia and South Carolina? They both looked good in their openers against inferior opponents. They’re both dependent on stars who might not be around for the whole season: Stephen Garcia because he is going to get killed if he keeps running full-speed into defenders and A.J. Green because of David Pollack’s pessimistic tweet this morning that Georgia is looking at more than the Miami event with A.J. That said, either team could beat this version of the Gators. The door is open.
3. Les, Gary Crowton is killing you.
Les Miles is a classic CEO Coach, which means that he’ll only go as far as his VPs will take him. Gary Crowton came to Baton Rouge with a reputation formed at BYU and Oregon of a guy whose offenses are excellent in year one and then get progressively worse as each year goes by. Miles is apparently the only person who hasn’t noticed this fact, or the the only guy who thinks that LSU finishing 112th in total offense or 89th in yards per play isn’t a fireable offense.
So there his Tigers were in the Georgia Dome last night, scoring the same touchdowns based solely on the good work of the defense or the outrageous athleticism of some of the players with the ball in their hands. Otherwise, the Tigers didn’t have a clue. 313 yards and 11 first downs against an opponent that resembled the 82nd Airborne after D-Day isn’t going to cut it. If we’re in the business of making snap judgments on the basis of one week, then LSU is looking up at everyone other than Ole Miss in the West. If Mississippi State comes to Baton Rouge in two weeks and wins, then it’s curtains for Miles for two reasons. First, Mississippi State never beats LSU. Second, if the Other Bulldogs win in Death Valley, it will be the result of a smart young coach putting together a capable offense out of average talent. The contrast with what LSU is doing on that side of the ball will be palpable.
4. Michigan is back.
Michigan looked great on Saturday. Denard Robinson was as close to perfect as a quarterback can be. The defense was … better than the extremely low expectations that had been set for it. The Wolverines clobbered a team that won eight games in each of the past three seasons and returned 16 starters from the team that caused Steve Spurrier to apologize profusely for the beating that his team took in Birmingham.
Michigan started strong last year before collapsing, so the inevitable question that follows is “haven’t we seen this movie before?” So why is this year different? A few reasons. First, this Michigan team is deeper. The 4-0 start in 2009 was fueled by Tate Forcier improvisationally pulling rabbits out of his hat. When Forcier got nicked, the team suffered. When center David Molk got hurt, the team collapsed. This year, Michigan looked good with Denard Robinson running the offense. In other words, Michigan looked good by design rather than by improvisation. If Robinson were to get nicked, Michigan has two players behind him who appear quite capable. Elsewhere on the team, the depth is also improved. Michigan lost slot receiver Roy Roundtree on Saturday, so Terrence Robinson stepped in and caught a long pass. Michigan lost safety Carvin Johnson, so Thomas Gordon stepped in and played competently. In short, this team finally appears to have depth.
4a. Michigan is not back.
It’s one game. Michigan depends on Denard Robinson and he can’t take the pounding that he got from UConn for 12 games. Opponents will eventually figure out what he cannot do. They’ll figure out that the running backs are suspect. Rich Rodriguez might be able to scheme around his team’s talent deficiencies when he has a summer to prepare, but once opponents get film on what Michigan is doing, there will be no counterpunch.