Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reflecting on the Option

The more time I spend reading about option football - spread option, triple option, veer, how it differs from wishbone, the pass vs run ratio - the more I get excited about our future. Now, my excitement is not really centered around any dissatisfaction around what we had. I generally liked where we were headed as a program. Of course specifically, there was plenty of frustration..... but I digress..

With Paul Johnson now at the helm, I've gained a renewed interest in the X's and O's of the game. Back to basics. Back to principles of war, strategy and success. Angles and numbers. Researching the triple option is a fascinating exercise, and there is truly a lot to be excited about if you are a Jacket fan. At a base level, getting back to option football just warms my heart. I can't explain it, but option football is truly college football goodness. Moving away from a traditional pro-set and installing the triple option should be fun. However, with the spread formations of today's option, we're not talking about your daddy's wishbone here. It is modern. It is fun to watch........... and it works.

More than anything else, it's hard to argue with results. This stinkin spread system just results in wins and wins and wins. There is not a bigger reason to be excited than the success of the system itself. Truthfully, it doesn't seem to matter whether you're running or passing either. There are some fundamental differences between the known spread teams out there, but really the differences are minor. Even Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach said this when comparing his spread passing attack, which led the nation in passing, to PJ's Navy attack, which led the nation in rushing:

"They run it all the time, and we throw it a lot, but in my mind that's sort of
where the differences end," Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach said. "It's about
distribution of the ball. They make sure everybody touches the ball, and the
quarterback makes good decisions about who gets the ball. Philosophically, I
think we're incredibly similar."

This stinkin' system just seems to works. I mean, let's look at some facts:

1. PJ's record at GaSouthern and Navy and Hawaii, all using the triple option. All his teams won lots of games. All his teams racked up lots of yards and points on offense. His teams did not lose much and the National Championships at GaSouthern are well documented.

2. Texas Tech annually leads the nation in passing yards (or comes close). Navy annually leads the nation in rushing yards (or top 2). One team throws 60%+ of the time. The other runs it most of the time. Both teams spread the ball around. Both teams rack up yards and points. Both teams win and go to bowls every year now. Texas Tech has beaten Texas A&M 6 out of the past 8 years and Navy has dominated its service academy rivals. Spread option football my friends.

3. Appalation State just became the first 1-AA team in history to win back-to-back-to-back national championships............running the spread option. Oh yeah, they also beat some team named MICHIGAN to start the season, which some labeled as the biggest upset in the history of college football. And guess what - Michigan just hired one of the pioneers of the spread option - Rich Rodriguez. If you can't beat'em, join'em I guess. Spread option football my friends. Oh yeah, know where App State got their offense? Their head coach studied some guy named Urban Meyer at Utah and some guy named Rich Rodriguez at WV. Speaking of....

4. West Virginia - Rodriguez turned WV into a national power. West Virginia? Other than John Denver and flaming couches, what else is going on up there?.... I'll tell you what else - the spread option. Oh, and don't be fooled by the fact that they called it the spread option and not the triple option. Yes, they will line up 4 wideouts and put the QB in the shotgun, but guess what - they run the ball a lot more than they pass. Despite perceptions, WV has a running option offense that occasionally passes the ball.

5. Why did Missouri and Kansas rise to the top of the polls after histories of being less than mediocre? I'll tell you how - largely on the back of option football.

6. Why is Hawaii undefeated, in a BCS bowl and about to play UGAg? Well, besides a weak schedule, the answer would be the spread option. June Jones has a beautiful system in place and a great QB to execute it.

7. How did Utah come out of the netherworld to go undefeated in 2004? A guy named Urban Meyer and a system called the spread option. Of course Meyer later went on to win the National Championship at Florida implementing that same system - a spread option.

These are just some of the stories you've heard about. There are many more. The bottom-line is this - the option works and the spread option is the modern incarnation that is driving defensive coordinators crazy. It works. Spread out the defenses. Create large gaps. Distribute the ball to many different players. Force defenses to play assignment football (this is a key component). Execute, execute, execute.

Now, it is important to note that Paul Johnson is the only guy in the country running the spread option like he does - as a run-dominant offense. Clearly PJ is a run-first guy. If any GT fans are thinking we are going to turn into a Texas Tech pass-first offense, you can forget it. Ain't gonna happen. This is going to be an offense that bases everything off the triple option run. We will pass more than Navy, but at the end of the day, we are going to be just like Chan Gailey teams - rely on the run to win.

Will PJ adjust his offense to personnel? Sure he will. But folks, we were a run-first, weak passing team with Chan Gailey's players. We didn't have a strong passing attack from year 1 to year 6 under Coach Gailey. We just brought in a guy who specializes in the run, so don't expect that to change much. Honestly I would guess that GT is going to throw the ball 5-10 fewer times per game, but complete even more passes. My guess is that our passing efficiency goes up significantly.

Today, recruit WR Chris Jackson announced he was switching his commitment from GT to Alabama. He was the first GT verbal and a bigtime cheerleader for GT. There wasn't another guy in the class that was more of a "Tech man". However, now he's saying "Roll Tide". PJ has a challenge on his hands to convince receivers they will have a significant role in this system. Of course the real challenge is that he has no product to really sell. He's selling something different than Navy and something different than Hawaii. I don't worry about the QB situation because we immediately start going after a specific type of kid (Jaybo Shaw, not Sean Renfree, dual-threat, not drop-back pocket passer). My only real worry is QB next season, as triple option football does get your QB smacked a lot. That means we need a good stable of competent running QB's. However, I do worry about our long-term ability to bring in bigger talent WR's.

Now, there's another grain of salt about "fitting the offense to personnel". That makes a lot of sense when you just inherited a team of guys you didn't recruit. However, the question becomes - what type of players do you recruit moving forward? You mold the offense to your inherited players - but then do you go out and recruit players that allow you to change the offense?..... or do you recruit even better players that allow you to execute the system you have had success running? I bring this up because evidently at Hawaii PJ set all kinds of passing records in his first couple of years there, but then he brought in the dual-threat QB's and started running the ball more. So in the end, Hawaii turned into more of a triple-option running team by the time he left. It will be interesting to watch.

At the end of the day, we're going to have a bumpy ride until PJ proves what he's all about to the current team at spring ball and to recruits next season during gametime. Until then it's going to be a rocky recruiting ride and possibly a rocky road for transfers. It is just the reality of coaching changes, and don't let it surprise you too much. You change the head coach and you're going to assume risk. Change the system at the same time and the risk level gets higher. Just reality.

Don't get me wrong about the option. I'm excited about the possibilities. My Clemson friend here in the upstate told me yesterday at lunch that I was already drinking the "Triple Option" Kool-Aid. I guess that's true. I like so much about the system and it's going to be a fun ride to see how PJ puts it into practice at "the I".

............. to be continued.