LC apologists UNITE!
Catching Up With The Spread
Note: I'm going to use the term "spread offense" to refer to lots of different types of attacks, though I'm aware of the differences between pass-first, read-option, and pistol schemes. Since the spread's detractors refer to the spectrum of schemes as "the spread," I'll debunk in favor of "the spread," and not a single implementation of it.
Ever since Rich Rodriguez came to Michigan, Wolverine fans have been bombarded with assertions by the media, opposing fans, and even the occasional opposing coach that college defenses have "caught up" to the spread offense. Like almost all criticisms of Rich Rodriguez, this will go away if he starts winning. But is there any merit to these claims?
Have Defenses Caught Up to the Spread Offense?
This is an easy debunk, one that's often cited on the internet. Behold: last year's top 10 offenses in the college game. I also included QB rushing yards, since the quote that prompted this post mentioned the quarterback run specifically.
|Texas Tech||531.00||4||43.77||3||Passing Spread||32%||-15|
|Nevada||508.54||5||37.62||t-12||Spread 'n' Shred||58%||1140|
|Oklahoma State||487.69||6||40.77||9||Spread 'n' Shred||64%||585|
|Oregon||484.85||7||41.92||7||Spread 'n' Shred||60%||967|
(*Colt McCoy led his team in rushing yardage with 561 yards. Also, note that these stats count sacks and scrambles as passes and are slightly tilted towards the run.)
Zero teams that operate mostly under center appear (Nevada does use the pistol, FWIW), and half of the top ten saw their quarterbacks rack up over 500 yards on the ground.
It's clear that defenses haven't done so much of the catching up. Even if Tulsa, Houston, Nevada, and Rice are playing against worse defensive talent, are they not doing so with comparable offensive players? Also, take into account Florida, #15 in total offense and #4 in points scored last year. The SEC has a reputation for some of the toughest defenses in the land, yet the Gators managed to put up plenty of points with the spread offense.
The problem with Michigan's offense last year was not defenses "catching up" to the scheme, but rather a lack of talent and execution. Take it from Rodriguez: "This whole thing about catching up to this, it's all about execution."
Can Defenses Catch Up to the Spread Offense?
Now that it's established that the spread offense is not obsolete, we should determine whether that is even a possibility. Is the spread offense successful only because of its novelty? As Smart Football says:
"The book "Spread Formation Football," written by Coach Meyer, begins with the line: "Spread formations are not new to football." Very true.
Wait, I should have been more specific. "Spread Formation Football" was written in 1952 by Coach Dutch Meyer of TCU.
So, there must be an aspect other than novelty that makes the spread offense so successful. Why haven't defenses caught up to the spread yet if it's been around for more than 50 years - longer than the West Coast offense? Why is there no talk about how the West Coast offense is now obsolete? Other than the fact that it would be completely stupid, there isn't one.
Is there something about the spread offense that makes it easier to defend than pro-style attacks once you "catch up" with it? Since defenses haven't caught up with the pro-style offense, with all its tight ends and fullbacks (or at least, they're not bragging about it), there must be something about the spread that make it an inherently weaker scheme than the pro style. If you ask Anonymous Ohio State Coach, it's the quarterback run. But quarterback runs were a key part of the attack for half of the top ten offenses in the country last year. If they've caught up, they must have done it sometime after January.
The only other key aspect of the spread offense is the use of a lot of receiver-heavy shotgun formations. So this must be what enables defenses to catch up with the offense. The bigger, tougher athletes in the pro-style must be better able to move the ball than nimble spread linemen and skill players. Of course, the evidence shows that this isn't the case. Defenses can't "catch up with" competing against smaller players, or they would have by now.
There is no right or wrong answer as to which type of offense is the best in college football. It's all about creating matchups between players, and teaching them to execute well enough to win those matchups. The spread is here, and all evidence points to it being here to stay. The biggest factor in success, though, is execution.
I don't remember where in the book, but it is in Bo's Lasting Lessons. If anyone can find the direct passage I'd love that.
Anyways, Bo went to a coaching seminar after the 6-6 season where Harbaugh(?) was injured. This "hot-shot" coach was talking about all these awesome plays he had for his team when some random coordinator asked him "well why did your team have a losing record?" The "hot-shot" coach replied with how his team just didn't have good enough players.
At this point, it hit Bo. He had it all wrong. The game was catching up to him. He was catching up to him. He had to get back to Michigan Football! EXECUTION WINS GAMES, not styles.
Lloyd Ball was premised on this thin reed. We are better than you and we will tell you what we are going to do and we will win this game by 3-7 points because we are better than you.
Yes, execution in any scheme is the key, but scheme helps put players in a position where their execution matters, or is even possible.
How often did the zone stretch left under Lloyd permit the hard slant by the defense to the play side to simply blow things up time and again forcing Mike Hart to make em miss.
Scheme has its place and is necessary to put players into favorable situations so they can execute.
So, while Bo's point is well taken, it is an oversimplification proven wrong by the latter part of the Lloyd era.
You hinted around at the true problem when you said
"We are better than you and we will tell you what we are going to do..."
LC's problem was not scheme or execution. His problem was predictable playcalling.
Where did you get your avatar picture, like the ones with the comical sayings underneath?
I appreciate the time and effort it took to assemble all these facts and use logic to dispel the spread myth, but IME it's not complicated, Brian- railing against the spread is simply a manifestation of one's love for the NFL and its "place" in front of college ball.
Some people, some Michigan fans included, take pride in their school being a training ground/farm system for the "real" football league, the NFL. But the players in almost any kind of spread offense will inevitably be tagged with the "not ready/suited for the NFL" critique. So RichRod bringing in the spread essentially destroys that farm system mystique that some enjoyed.
Personally, I never cared one way or another for Michigan being a farm system for statue QBs, versatile TEs, "NFL-ready" o-linemen, etc. So I never really cared about Michigan "losing" the NFL mystique. Others don't feel that way.
It's all about the NFL, Brian.
Tim wrote this story.
Nicely put together!
The "popularity" of offensive and defensive systems is also tied to a lot of different variables unique to each era - scholarship limits, number of total D-1 programs, racial profiling at the QB position.
Spread detractors: "Damn logic, you scary!"
Look at that sumbitch go, he haulin' ass!
If we could have that guy for color commentary during even one game, I would die of happiness.
So NFL-style offenses be damned!
Don't confuse Lloyd's "scheme" with his refusal to exploit advantages or mitigate disadvantages ("scoring offense" vs "C. Graham on a WR against OSU"). Totally different issues.
which I agree was also a nagging problem of some of Lloyd's less inspired games. But when I refer to scheme I am referring to something completely different and the example for me that comes to mind is the zone stretch - the failure is the lack of adding deception or play action to the scheme effectively to neutralize the hard slant play side which I think we all agree was way too effective against the zone stretch left runs that were a staple.
Perhaps it is a difference in nomenclature, but the ineffectiveness of that play (or its only being effective when Mike Hart was at his shifty best despite the play design) was more than a personnel decision of matchup like your Chris Graham example, but rather a design flaw in the system.
So if I am confused you are going to have to be a lot more specific than your e.g. Chris Graham - who would have been limited in any system.
I am sure one could go through the UFR's and find other examples of the scheme itself not working.
I am not trying to suggest that ultimately the scheme is everything, or that even with perfect execution, Lloyd was doomed to failure, but rather to show that there were schematic problems with Lloyd's move to the zone stretch running scheme, which were not as present in the previously more heavily used pro-set and trap running shcemes.
Attack weaknesses, avoid strengths.
Sun Tzu figured this junk out centuries ago.
You counter a right jab with a left hook etc etc. Its not rocket science.
A more telling story is told by the yards per play: even though many (most?) of these teams run a no-huddle or hurry up type of scheme (and hence run more plays), the efficiency numbers remain high. To me, the efficiency is far more important than the volume stats (though the volume stats are impressive). Those same teams rank at the very top of YPP (rank, team, YPP):
1 Tulsa 7.3
2 Houston 7.2
3 Texas Tech 7.1
(3 Florida 7.1)
5 Oklahoma St 7.0
6 Oklahoma 6.9
6 Missouri 6.9
10 Oregon 6.6
13 Nevada 6.5
13 Texas 6.5
18 Rice 6.3
This just reinforces that "the spread" (broad term usage here) is still working just as well as it ever has.
Tempo-free stats will change football eventually!
For more ammo, here's somebody's efforts (link below) to rank the 2009 scoring offenses, adjusting for the quality of the defenses they faced:
1. Oklahoma 12-2 54.47 [ 1]
2. Florida 13-1 46.38 [ 2]
3. Oregon 10-3 44.66 [ 3]
4. Texas 12-1 42.91 [ 4]
5. Texas Tech 11-2 42.91 [ 5]
6. Missouri 10-4 42.71 [ 6]
7. Tulsa 11-3 41.58 [ 7]
8. Penn State 11-2 40.79 [ 8]
9. Southern Cal 12-1 40.65 [ 9]
10. Oklahoma St 9-4 39.45 [ 10]
Pretty much the same programs appear at the top Rice and Houston, which dropped, are in the teens. As far as I know, USC is the only team in there that doesn't employ spread-based offensive approaches as a significant part of their offense.
Execution wins ball games, it's as simple as that
You could make an argument from Tim's post and not a Blue Fan's additional facts that the spread is AHEAD of the other offensive schemes in college football.
But yes, you're obvs correct that the better execution wins
its more player+execution=win
player ability trumps all schemes...
that is a players ability to execute...
It really is that simple...
The only proviso I would offer to this [here is much of the dilema of much of the NFL] is that if talent is more or less equal, and both teams execute, scheme and game planning make a huge difference. I remember after USC punked OSU last year the USC players kept bragging that they knew what was coming every play and they knew they could stop it every play.
But in general...talent wins, especially in college...get those players executing...and you can rule the college world...
After all is that not what Leach does at TT?
It is true execution wins ball games. If you have atheletes and good play calling that helps. A defense to limit your opponent's offense. Special Teams help tremendously! In short, a good football wins games.
I watch Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, a TV Show that shows programmable humans. If we could have a programmable football team wins, wins, wins. That is science fiction and very improbable. If it could be done Michigan could do it. Well anyway, Rich Rod is going get it done.
WTF? Your 2nd paragraph didn't make any sense at all.
I was revising it when you were replying. I could not fix it. What I meant was RR will get the wins. I was trying to be clever about it. Michigan has a tremendous science aspect to the university. I don't know if UM is your alma mater. I happen to know things about it. Besides I'm watching the box set of Dollhouse now. It is a sci-fi show that show an agency that programs people to do whatever you want them to do. Kind of like The Matrix programming. Anyway, look it up on wikepedia. You will get when you do. It does not matter. The point was about UM winning. I'm a nerd what can I say!?!?! I'll limit my sci-fi allusions.
If you want to watch an exciting offense, watch Tulsa's. They love feeding the ball to multiple backs with misdirections, sweeps, and this year, they may have Beaver play so the option will be viable.
That, and Houston. I love watching them bomb it all over the place.
Why is yards earned in a game proof that an offense works? With that logic, Hawaii would have been the best national champion in the last decade. This argument also disregards the possibility of leaving your defense on the field for 40 minutes in a game while your 7 yards/play offense scores in a minute and a half each drive.
Where did all of these teams finish last year?
Final 2009 AP Rankings:
Texas Tech 12
Oklahoma State 16
I'm not arguing that the spread sucks, I like the execution matchups that it forces as mentioned earlier. I just disagree with the argument that gaining the most yards means you win the most football games.
I just disagree with the argument that gaining the most yards means you win the most football games.
Uh, well, this is mostly true, except that you're knocking down a strawman. No one is purely saying gaining the most yards automatically gets you more wins. Getting the most yards will give you a better chance at winning, and spread offenses seem to offer a better chance at gaining more yards, but don't oversimplify by abusing the transitive property. This post analyzes the spread based only on what the spread is responsible for- namely, the offense.
The point of this post is not "Spread teams win more," but rather "despite the naysayers spread offenses are doing just fine thankyouverymuch." Surely you can see the difference.
"Can't win this game simply by outscoring their opponent." ~ I'm sure Joe Morgan has said this.
Although it's good to give your defense a rest, it's better to score points. So yes, if you score in 3 minutes every drive, your defense won't have a lot of rest, but it won't need to make many stops if you score on almost every drive.
But this post is about offense only. Oklahoma and Florida had similar offensive production last year, but Florida was better due to a dominant defense (side note, they bring back all 11 starters on D this year, yikes).
Similarly, if we compared the best defenses in the country last year, it wouldn't make sense if you debunked it by saying "not true because team X went 8-4 because they couldn't put the ball in the end zone." That's pretty much what you said, but about offense.
Lastly, you can't use AP rankings as your counterexample because 4 of the 10 teams discussed are non-BCS teams, thus much less likely to be ranked. Houston, Rice and Tulsa had Conference USA level talent, and played against C-USA talent. C-USA teams aren't going to be ranked very high, but they were the 3 top teams in their conference, so against even competition they were better than their AP ranking indicates.
is an advantage to running systems that people dont see as much, or have a hard time similating (see paul johnson and the double wing veer) but at the end of the day the teams that ezxecutes best, with the best players, usually wins..
I'll have some hyper-spread with some passing spread on the side, sprinkled with spread n' shred on a maize and blue waffle cone. Please!!!
wait so you're saying that Rodriguez knows what he's talking about? I'll be damned.
...because it allows for the best execution.
Defenses have caught up to the spread in the sense that they aren't confused and/or tricked, a la Michigan at Northwestern in 2000. However, just b/c the defenses know how to align properly and not be out-flanked doesn't mean they will be successful. In fact, since defenses do know how to defend the spread from a schematic standpoint and the offenses are still putting up huge numbers strengthens the argument that the spread offense is the best in football, perhaps the best in the history of the game. Every other offensive system has been solved to the point where a defense could shut it down. This has not happened with the spread. This has to be frustrating for defensive coaches.
RichRod himself has said it's not about scheme. It's rather simple: spread out the defense so you can get athletes the ball 1-on-1 in space. In traditional offenses, the goal was still to get your best athletes the ball, but even when you executed, your ball carrier was in tight quarters (on run plays).
"Defenses have caught up to the spread in the sense that they aren't confused and/or tricked, a la Michigan at Northwestern in 2000."
And that's exactly what I think the coach who referenced "catching up to the spread" meant. They've studied it and they are defending it in better ways.
However, it's still a pick your poison when your choice is to have Steve Slaton running zone or Pat White keeping it. There just aren't a lot of good options available to a defense to defend that without having superior personnel.
This entire thing has been blown completely out of proportion to the original intent of the coach who stated it.
I really think those stats over simplify what is actually a much more complicated question on whether defenses have caught the spread.
Alright so lots of big 12 teams in there, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas. So half the top 10 is from the big 12, 3 more from conference usa and then 1 each from the Pac10 and the WAC. So why are there so many Big12ers in there?
A. Last year espn couldn't stop talking about how the Big12 was going to sort out the 3 top teams in that league. All 3 showed that they could win the big games within the conference they showed up when it mattered but not every game they played was a big game. So how do you keep attention on your team while playing cupcakes, you run the score up. And if your going run the score up you have to put up a lot of yards. I grabbed examples from each school but don't think that there was only one game per school that this fits.
Missouri v Southeast Missouri State 52-3
Oklahoma v Missouri 62-21
Texas Tech v Oklahoma State 65-21
Oklahoma State v Iowa State 59-17
Texas v Texas AM 49-9
B. Not all the big 12 offenses were as prolific as the majority of the defenses were bad. I don't remember how many bowl games I watched this year but outside of the big 12 they look much weaker than their offensive stats imply. Oklahoma with the most points per game could only put up 2 TDs on florida when they averaged 7.5!
Missouri v Northwestern 30-23W
Oklahoma v Florida 14-24 L
Texas Tech v Mississippi 34 - 47 L
Oklahoma State v Oregon 31-42 L
Texas v OSU 24-21 W
In my opinion a lack of defense in the Big12 is a huge reason why so many points were scored to begin with for so many teams to have those gaudy numbers. Then you add the continuous scoring on top of that and you have the stats posted above. The only thing the Yds/Gm and Pts/Gm show is which team was the least respective of its opponent, it does not answer whether "The spread has been caught by defenses". To answer that would take many more stats to fully answer.
What it boils down to is exactly what RR said, it is which team executes their plays better and the level of execution is controlled by things that cannot be put into a spread sheet. Injuries, game plan, scheduling, hard work, personal drive and luck; if you don't have them all, you haven't executed.
why USC does a pretty good job defensing the spread? Personnel is probably the answer.
why did Oklahoma's spread get routed by a pretty good defense? Personnel is probably the answer.
to analyze the succeess of the spread can someone review spread vs. really good teams (Texas vs. Oklahoma), USC vs. Oregon, etc. etc.
Their D is full of fast 5star players.
was their ability to score when they had golden opportunities in the first half. I think they turned the ball over on downs against Florida twice in the first half. That still would have been well below their season average.
I think personnel is probably one of the answers. As people have said, the whole idea of the spread (whether passing, running or a combo) is to spread the opponents defense out and attack their weaknesses. The better teams/programs are probably going to have better defensive players and not as many weaknesses to attack. Also, they will probably have the ability to compensate and recover quicker when they make a mistake.
I'd also say that good defensive game planning helps in defending the spread. Watching UM against App St and Oregon, it was pretty obvious that UM's defense was clueless and ill-prepared to try and stop those offenses (especially Oregon).
I think it's a matter of personnel and scheme, frankly. Though it's been noted by other posters, it bears repeating: the only way in which anyone has 'caught up to the spread' is in scheme preparation. That's only part of the battle. However, if you've prepared your defense to recognize, say, the zone read and ALWAYS have your DE contain to push the play back inside (that is, sell out to stop the RB), you at least have a fighting chance (the alternative against passing spreads you might have to train corners to adjust to hot slants, etc). If players know what to do to try and neutralize those plays intended to force split second decisions, then it's just up to your personnel to execute.
Personnel is the reason good defenses shut down good spread offenses; but then, good defenses shut down every offense, more or less. Most versions of the spread, including the read-option that Michigan utilizes, take advantage of the general lack of highly-skilled defensive personnel in the college game. Think about it; there are about 120 teams in D-1 (or whatever the hell they call it this week) and about 45 defensive players on each team, leaving a talent pool of 5,400 players and 1,320 starters, all of varying abilities. The spread's goal is putting those defenders in space and forcing them into one-on-one matchups that the offensive players are more prepared to win. It follows that most defenses do not attract enough quality players to win all these matchups, but schools that do (USC, Florida, and the like) can be successful against any offense, not just the spread.
Would the spread work at the NFL level? Not nearly as well. The talent pool allows about 775 open positions among the 31 teams (assuming each team carries ~25 defenders), and 341 starting positions. With that small a pool, teams can select well for speed and coverage ability (unless you're the Lions), making it much more difficult for offenses to create generic one-on-one matchups. I do think elements of the spread are going to be utilized, like the triple-option zone read that Florida used to pwn Oklahoma (a thing of beauty, that), but anything involving NFL QBs in designed runs will cause coaches to shudder and wet their pants. I'm hoping Philly uses Vick as a test case; if he's got any speed left, spread elements could work very well for them. Plus, he's cheap and therefore disposable.
You don't get use to the spread offenses or neutralize them. They are designed to create larger creases in the seams of defenses. Every defense as a weakness. So does every offense have weaknesses too. If you can create match up problems the way NW did against UM in 2000. You can be sucessful. That game was winnable too, a fumble by A. Thomas sealed NW's win.
It took several years for the Wing-T and Wish Bone to become obsolete. The Option has evolved into a variety of things. It is an arms race. OSU tweaks their offense to deal with UM's weakness in the past which has been a mobile QB [e.g. Ricky Foggy (Minn), Armanti Edwards (App. St.), Troy Smith (OSU), Drew Brees (Pur), Vince Young (Tex) etc.
In the eighties UM responded by going away from mobile QBs. Jim Harbaugh was the transition QB to the pocket passer. Rick Leach, and Dennis Franklin being the best of UM's speedsters. After that UM played drop backs, culminating with future All-Pro QB, Chad Henne.
Sadly, UM as been late to the spread party and behind the 8 ball. Now RR will not do a WV spread, which scared all kinds of players and recruits away. Michigan will have its own version of the spread with TEs and everything. Hopefully, this happens sooner rather than later.
There are so many grammar errors in that post it's not even funny.
after him we had Michael Taylor/ Demetrius Brown until Bo retired. It wasnt until Grbac beat out Wilbur Odoms that the transition to the water buffalo era under Moeller was fully transformed
That doesn't mean it's unbeatable. You said, "Even if Tulsa, Houston, Nevada, and Rice are playing against worse defensive talent, are they not doing so with comparable offensive players?" This isn't an entirely accurate comparison. It is true that as defensive talent and speed faced by an offense increases the offensive talent and speed increases as well. Obviously when Oklahoma faces Texas, the offenses are much faster and more talented than those of Rice or Houston. However, while talent can scale, the football field cannot.
No matter how talented you are, the football field stays the same width. So when you have players who are running at, say, an average of 5% faster, you should consider the field to essentially be 5% smaller. Consider a nickleback at Rice covering a receiver at Houston. Assume they each run a 4.6 40, and the reciever is dashing to the sideline in a flat route. The two players should reach the sideline, 10 yards away, in roughly 1.15 seconds (give or take). Now consider an Oklahoma receiver and a Texas DB, each running a 4.4 40. Now, by contrast, they should reach the sideline in 1.1 seconds.
Football is about reactions, and the spread is predicated on getting players in space. 1/5th of a second, or more, means that the receiver has less time to cut up-field, the QB has less time to get the ball off, and the defense has more time to contain the play. If the field were larger to go along with the talent increase, then the faster speed of the game at that level wouldn't matter. However, because the boundaries are the same, in a somewhat paradoxical manner, the spread becomes less effective as team speeds increase.
I think this is the reason the spread gets more effective the farther down the talent line you go. If everyone is running 5.0 40s or slower, the width of the field is effectively far larger than if they ran 4.4s. This makes getting the ball in space is both easier and more effective, since you, for all intents and purposes, have more room to work with.
I think a lot of commenters are missing the point of the original post. It's not "OMG Spread rulz!~!~!," but rather noting that the spread isn't somehow an innately inferior scheme that can just be destroyed by a competent defense (as the coach in question was attempting to claim).