In this decade where â€œall time greatestâ€? seems to be the descriptive phrase of choice for many college football analysts, it should come as no surprise that everyone is jumping on the â€œspreadâ€? bandwagon.
However, is it really that new or that great? The goal of the spread is to spread the defense over the entire field creating mismatches. Is this any different than the goal of the option, the West Coast offense, or the Run and Shoot? In fact, if Mike Leach were running his Texas Tech offense in the 1980â€™s instead of the 2000’s ,wouldnâ€™t we just call it the Run and Shoot?
What the spread, spread option, or the traditional option for that matter, does is takes advantage of an athletic QB and makes up for talent deficiencies. For example, just over a decade ago teams like Vanderbilt and Mississippi State used an old school option attack to offset their lack of speed in the SEC. Many other bottom dwellers in major conferences and strong teams in weaker conferences also relied on the option. It wasnâ€™t that the option was a better scheme; however, it did several positive things. It took advantage of the players these teams had in place, and it created confusion and mismatches for defenses that were designed for more traditional attacks. During this time, successful teams such as Nebraska ran this scheme to perfection with QBâ€™s like Tommie Frasier, but despite the Cornhuskerâ€™s extraordinary success, the option didnâ€™t catch on with other top teams.
Is the spread really any different? Did Texas run the spread because they thought it was a better scheme or because it was highly suited to Vince Youngâ€™s talents? Will Paterno still run the spread effectively now that Michael Robinson is gone? How about Ohio State, if Troy Smith wasnâ€™t the QB, would they be running the spread? Could any of these three QBâ€™s actually run a pro-style offense?
One definitely canâ€™t mention the spread offense without talking about West Virginia. Why is that exactly? The Mountaineers finished a very average 50th in the NCAA in total offense last year. East Carolina finished 47th, and no one seems to be visiting the Pirates to learn their offense. Unfortunately, it appears that many people watched the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl and were convinced of the Mountaineerâ€™s prowess, but maybe that game is worth revisiting before jumping on the WVU bandwagon.
The Mountaineers scored on their first four possessions in Atlanta (transplanted from NOLA), but only managed 10 points the remaining 40+ minutes of the game. WVU out gained Georgia by exactly 1 yard for the game, and UGA actually had a higher yards per carry average than WVU (8.0 to 6.1). Perhaps the most telling stat is that Georgia lost 3 fumbles to WVUâ€™s 0 turnovers.
This is certainly not to say that Georgia was the better team that day, but is WVU really as good as the publicity they are getting? For the season, the Mountaineers were plus 14 in turnovers, and skated by a couple of lousy teams (Syracuse and East Carolina). The only games they played against ranked teams were a loss to VPI and a triple overtime escape by Louisville.
The other issue with the spread is defining it. WVU and Texas Tech are both considered spread offenses, but their attacks have little in common. Tech was 104th in rushing offense and 1st in passing offense last year while WVU was a virtual mirror image 4th in rushing offense and 115th in passing offense. People are still calling Meyerâ€™s conventional offense a spread attack though it has few spread components outside of spring practice. Elsewhere, the term spread seems to pop up anyplace an athletic quarterback spends at least a few plays in the shotgun.
Like the West Coast offense, the Run and Shoot, and the traditional option, the spread certainly has elements that will be incorporated into mainstream football. However, letâ€™s not go overboard and expect this â€œnewâ€? offense to revolutionize the game. Or in the words of one of the most respected coaches in college football, Pete Carroll, â€œPeople are always looking for the hot new dealâ€¦I donâ€™t particularly like it.â€? Given the offensive talent, wouldnâ€™t you rather have Charlie Weisâ€™ offense, Norm Chowâ€™s offense, or Al Borgeâ€™s offense? Sure, last year displayed some spread offense success, but one year doesnâ€™t make a revolution. One doesn’t have to go back very far to see that traditional pro style offenses are still effective. USC (2003 â€“ 2005), OU (2003 â€“ 2004), and Miami (2001 â€“ 2002) had virtually unstoppable offenses and all without any elements of the spread. Finally, the NFL is always a good place to look as a sanity check, and the spread isnâ€™t doing any damage there.