Saturday, October 18, 2008

A hopeless attempt at playing catch-up on college football coverage

Just when you stopped worrying and learned to love the (zone read) spread option offense, Gary Danielson, former Purdue quarterback and current CBS college football analyst says its dead.

A while back we wrote of how Rich Rodriguez’s arrival in Michigan from West Virginia with the spread option offense represented the full mainstreaming of that offense into college football culture and how it would continue the trend of other schools mimicking the offense.

In addition to “big boys” such as Oklahoma and Florida using this set as their primary offense, Auburn has adopted it also this year but with disastrous results. 4-3 Auburn’s HC, Tommy Tuberville fired his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin last week.

But no matter, we figured this offense to represent a seismic shift in offensive philosophies across the country and the type of athletes that were recruited to a) run it and b) defend it. We thought we saw the future during the 2006 Rose Bowl when a 7-point favorite USC and their fast, free-flowing defense simply did not have an answer for uber-athlete QB Vince Young running the Texas Longhorn offense out of the spread option set.

We envisioned a move away from the traditional power running game and the vertical passing game to this more horizontally-oriented multi-faceted attack. 300 lb. defensive linemen were out and a front seven that averaged between 220 and 260 lbs. and which could all run 4.5s was going to be in.

Or perhaps not. Not that Danielson necessarily thinks it’s a gimmick but rather, much like the veer and triple option-type attacks that have been used by the service academies over the years to compensate for a lack of size and speed, the spread option has been used by non-traditional powers to vault themselves into the national spotlight. See: Missouri and West Virginia. And lack of talent is something that the traditional powers should not have a problem with. Here’s Danielson:

"Instead of teams going more to it, I think you'll see teams going to it as part of an offense. The top schools can get the best talent. For them, there's no need to do it ... I love it as a part of my package, not as the only package."

And for a system that is so reliant on the quarterback, Danielson doesn’t think the risk is worth the reward:

"Still, it's somewhat of a high-wire attack, and as West Virginia has learned recently, when you're quarterback (Pat White) gets nicked, you lose your passing game and a good part of your running game. You go away from that, and it's not a great fit.
"When an Alabama, LSU or Ohio State falls (from their offensive scheme), they land on the sidewalk, brush off the scratch and walk away. When a Missouri, Kansas or West Virginia falls from the high wire, they break their legs. You've got to have more that you can do."

Danielson claims he saw his own version of the future earlier this season when the spread option jumped the shark.

"The spread officially peaked (early this season) when I saw Michigan spread out and running a fake snap count, (with the quarterback) looking to the sideline, trying to fool Miami of Ohio ... which Michigan used to just line up and run over."

We respect Danielson quite a bit and think he is a very good analyst and while we don’t think that we’ll ever see a program like USC, for instance, go with the spread option as its primary set, we still think that as defenses continue to load up with speed and athleticism, offenses will need an effective counter by which a well-run spread option offense will affect.

Story here.


JoePa's Illegitimate Son said...

My thoughts on the spread. I'm generally all in favor of the spread. I like it when a girl...what's that...oh, you mean the spread offense that is used at some schools. Let me think.

I think that team's that have a hard time recruiting will still use the spread as a counter point to the superior talent other schools' posses.

I know Florida & Michigan run it and they are Big Time. Let's see how their QB's make the transition to the NFL. If Tebow & Missouri's Daniels can succeed where many others before him have failed, good high school QB's will attend those programs.

If Tebow & Daniels (like Alex Smith and Pat White) fail to make it in the NFL, the best high school QB's will look elsewhere.

Already Terrell Prior passed on RichRod's offense in favor of a more traditional attack used in the NFL. If you're a top QB and want to go pro, it might not be the best for you.

It reminds me of a good fit for talented option QB's that led Nebraska & Notre Dame to titles in the 80's & 90's. None of those QB's played a down in the pros.

I do see the other major programs, such as PSU, incorporate some elements of the spread offense into their packages, but they mix it up with traditional formations.

Another point: running backs don't shine (as of yet) in the spread. A top flight recruit will see this and start to migrate elsewhere.

I'm happy for Urban Myers (his O-Coordinator went to College at Ursinis and was friends with my wife) so I root for them. But, as the gimmick fades and other teams' defenses catch on with the spread, it will, eventually go the way of the wishbone & other fads.

Just my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...


- Shank Piston Palin, Aztec, looking with fondness back to the heady days of head coach Denny Stoltz

Dean said...

JPis, The success in NFL/high school recruiting nexus that you bring up is an interesting one.

I never understood Alex Smith as the #1 overall draft pick precisely because of the offense Utah ran. But one could make the argument that he's experienced as much "success" as Matt Leinart who directed a pro-style attack at USC.

I haven't been able to watch much of Pryor this year so I can't tell how much success OSU has had with him in conventional sets vs. the spread option. I can say with some certainty that Penn St.'s Daryl Clark is a much more effective QB out of the spread option set.