Friday, October 03, 2008

The Rise of the Awful Spread

There have been more articles about the rise of the spread in the past 6-8 months than maybe the prior 5 years combined. It's on the media radar because every year more teams either move to a full out "spread" offense or incorporate elements of the spread into their "system".

However, the reality is that what we mostly have are a lot more really bad spread teams. Some writers have begun to touch on this fact. For example, this guy at writes about the rise of the bad spread:

  • 2. The rise of the terrible spread team. I forecast this day some time ago, but this year's college football season has wowed me with the number of just awful spread teams. Now, there's some good ones: Florida has great talent, and just about every top team has some kind of "spread" element to their gameplan. But there's a ton of just awful spread teams. This topic deserves a much more in depth treatment, but the basic gist is what I forecast a few years ago: the offense just isn't an equalizer anymore, but instead more of an amplifier. If you have great athletes you can isolate them in space, but if you don't then you're just giving them one-on-one matchups they can't win and asking your quarterback to play perfect or you can't win.
  • But the biggest reason is simply that everybody is doing it and there's just not much novelty to it. And it's not like you can fool a defense with some dizzying array of spread formations when each guy on defense played against spread teams for four years in high school and every week in college. That said, this also makes the cries from these teams and their coaches that there's a "steep learning curve" with their spread offense ring rather hollow. How much different is it to tell guys to line up differently and read the defensive end on the zone-read? There's lots of teams who successfully do that who use it only sparingly; it's unconvincing when teams that rely heavily on the zone-read and zone options claim that they need more time to teach it.
I will certainly agree on both points, but moreso the 2nd point. Contrarian offenses give rise to poor opponent preparation and have inherent advantages. As more and more teams run "spread" in their systems, players become more comfortable defending them.

However, there's a more important factor that I heard Terry Bowden talk about last week - coaches have to know what they're doing. Bowden said that it was WAY more important for a coach to have an in depth understanding of his system that to run a particular system. It ain't just the system. It's the guy running it...... duhhh.

For me, that's the difference in what we see on the field in terms of execution. There are only a handful of true guru's that understand their particular spread offense inside and out. There are only a few guys that have lived their unique offense over the years. Mike Leach is one of them. Rich Rodriguez is another. Paul Johnson might be king of the club. Johnson's been running his particular system for more than 20 years. NOBODY understands how it works and how to adjust in each and every play to make it work like he does.

Tony Franklin, the new OC at Auburn, is supposed to be a spread guru of sorts. He was brought in to revive the Auburn offense with "the spread". Here are some words from Franklin to Tony Barnhart prior to another poor outing by his offense:

1. The spread is a formation, not an offense: “Some people spread the field to run it, like West Virginia. Others spread the field to pass it, like Texas Tech. It’s what you do after you spread the field that defines your offense. We spread it to figure out what is going to work in any particular game and then we just do that. At Troy we basically ran it half the time and threw it half the time. We just always took what the defense was giving us. (Note: Troy rolled up 488 yards in a 44-34 loss to Georgia last November). Our plan at Auburn is to throw first and run second but if we find a running play that works, we’re going to do that. I’m not hung up on who gets the ball and how we do it. I just want to score points.”

There are four other points here. This particular point told me one thing - his "spread" offense has no true identity. If running works, we'll do that. If passing works we'll do that. So far Auburns offense has been less than poor. They managed 3 points against Miss St, then the following week we managed to score 38 against that same team.

Another interesting quote from HC Tommy Tuberville:

"One day we'll have the talent that we can say, 'Well, we'll run 100 percent of what Tony likes to run,'" Tuberville said. "Right now, we don't have that talent in some areas."

Don't tell me the cupboard is bare at Auburn. I don't buy that for a second. It's Auburn. I guarantee you all their past recruiting classes were more highly ranked than Georgia Tech. I don't deny that you need certain type players to be most successful, but why are we doing what we're doing? Yeah, Josh Nesbitt is perfect for the offense, but he goes out and rack up 500 total yards against a good Miss St defense that Auburn struggles against. We do that with a freshman QB. We have an O-Line going through a gigantic learning curve, as much as any curve Auburn is going through. So why the difference?

Guess what - Auburn has shelved their "spread" experiment.

“We don’t run Tony Franklin’s spread offense,” Tuberville said. “This is Auburn’s offense. It’s like our defense. We’re going to run what works and what we’re going to match up better with the other team. Everybody has to do that. You can’t put a square peg in a round hole. Why would you do that?”

All of this is to provide more excitement around the Paul Johnson experiment. Our guy and his staff know what they're doing. Turns out "it's not the system, stupid"............. "it's the coach, stupid". Success is so much more than a system. So much more.

On another note, many people do not classify what Paul Johnson runs as a "spread" offense. Here's the explanation.

On another side note, it turns out spread teams payoff better in Vegas. Explanation here.