Tuesday, August 09, 2005
THE SPREAD (R)EVOLUTION
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SMQ isn't sure how "revolutionary" they really are, but Sports Illustrated outdoes itself with its look at the offenses that are dominating college football at Boise State, Louisville, Texas Tech and, pending their new coaches' ability to repeat their past success, Florida and South Carolina. The profile also includes an outstanding virtual playbook that visually explains a few of each offense's key plays with commentary from the coaches and a photo gallery highlighting "Ten Key Moments in the Revolution." Top notch stuff.
Rather than a "revolution," though, SMQ thinks the trend towards different styles of spread attacks is more of an evolution; while no single offense has completely thrown off everything that came before with an entirely new system, each has introduced a new wrinkle or odd combination of old wrinkles that adds up to a very different brand of offensive football overall than was being played in 1994. It took a series of trends to get there, which SI highlights well in its slideshow.
But we're talking about Boise State, Louisville, Texas Tech and, because of Meyer's inclusion, Utah and Bowling Green - for such an innovative and successful approach, why no powerhouse contenders in that group? If it's so effective, why aren't USC, Miami, Tennessee and Ohio State doing this stuff?
That question indicates what SMQ said below in his post about surprise teams: squads not stocked with blue chippers often have to use gimmicks to compete with more talented teams, because they can't line up and run right at them or outrun them downfield. Overmatched coaches have traditionally used the option (service academies still do) to minimize the talent difference because of its reliance on precision rather than speed or strength and the mental pressure it puts on defenses to adhere to responsibilities; coaches began to use the short passing game for the same reason. The slideshow approriately highlights the success of Joe Tiller and Hal Mumme in the mid-to-late nineties, when both used spread passing attacks with all those quick throws and safe bubble screens to turn dormant schools into consistent bowl teams - but not lasting powers. Northwestern turned that approach on its head by using the whole field to spread defenses thin and run the ball - introducing the now-ubiquitous shotgun "read" option - and Clemson added the running quarterback to the equation, but neither was able to sustain its initial success once everybody noticed and defenses caught on because they couldn't throw the ball well enough.
So the spread has spawned two strains: the dropback passing game, employed by throw-till-the-quarterback's-arm-falls-off-and-then-put-in-another-one-to-throw-some-more styles of Tech and Hawaii, and the balanced, spread option running game centering around an athletic quarterback, which may have reached its pinnacle in Utah last year. Boise State and Louisville have made their marks by being so good at both, and Boise especially for its myriad and wild personnel groupings.
This year might begin a new era for the spread, though, because it's seeped into the big time: the dominant performances of Louisville, Utah and Boise State last year, while falling short of real national title hopes because of their schedules, far surpassed what Texas Tech, Kentucky, Purdue, Northwestern, West Virginia or Clemson had done before them. Their success, unparalelled for these schools or almost any other their size, should ignite the wildfire adoption of similar attacks from other smaller, less talented programs. And Meyer's arrival at Florida marks the first time the spread has been the attack of choice by a first-rate powerhouse, one that figures to be a legit national championship contender again within a couple years, if not this fall. His success with it in a major conference, where the Purdues, Texas Techs, etc. haven't been able to take it to the next level, will determine its acceptance by other big boys. If Meyer doesn't succeed (an option no one seems to be considering), or wins using a more conventional method, then the spread will likely remain the tactic of the underdog.
Anyway, check out Sports Illustrated's excellent effort, especially the highly evolved Xs and Os portion.
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