The Spread Is Dead, Part II

Submitted by Brian on October 21st, 2008 at 12:30 PM

Beat that dead horse beat it beat it beat that dead horse yeah

Gary Danielson keeps banging the anti-spread drum, although that may be because he's the only man in America you can call for a quote about how the spread is dumb. Some guy in West Virginia did—complete with Rodriguez slam, natch—and got a litany of quotes to the same effect.

I only bring it up because this seems like the exact worst argument you could ever make about anything:

Danielson said the spread's weakness was displayed late in the Illinois-Missouri season opener when Mizzou needed one more first down to seal the win, "and on third-and-3 they had nobody in the backfield to run the ball except (Heisman Trophy-candidate QB) Chase Daniel.

These are the ways in which this argument is the worst argument ever:

  • This event never happened. The only Mizzou third and three in the fourth quarter came with just under 13 minutes left on the clock. (Daniel threw incomplete.)
  • At no point was Illinois within a score of Missouri, so "sealing the win" isn't exactly of paramount importance.
  • This game between two spread teams (with garbage defenses, sure) featured 94 points and over 1000 total yards.

Oh, wait, this might be worse:

"I don't mean we're going back to grind-it-out football. I think every team will have to have their four-receiver sets, but I think in the future coaches are going to realize they have to be able to hand the ball to the tailback, too."

West Virginia ran 76% of the time last year, Northwestern, etc etc etc.

A few days ago when I pointed out that nine of the top ten offenses in the country were "spread" offenses some commenters protested that any grouping of offenses that included Illinois and Texas Tech was too broad to be meaningful. I agree with that. HOWEVA, Danielson groups Missouri and West Virginia and Michigan all together; anything in a shotgun with more than two wide receivers is the "spread." This makes his argument the "spread" is on the way out obviously untrue.

If Danielson was specifically addressing the Rodriguez-WVU spread there might be a case to make, but he'd have to make it in a significantly less dumb fashion. A fashion like this:

When Rodriguez got to Tulane with Tommy Bowden they threw the ball all over the place, but (a) it was in Conference USA, (b) they were excellent at the 3-step passing game, but defenses are better at defending against those passes now than they were a decade ago, and (c) his downfield passing game left something to be desired. And in the years since, it's not that Rodriguez is at heart a running guy, it's just that was what worked and it masked some of the passing game deficiencies. When I study the route combinations, they do not appear to be designed conceptually, and instead are a kind of grab-bag of a few routes here or there. You don't see his schemes organized of horizontal, vertical, and triangle stretches.

That's Smart Football, and that's something to be legitimately concerned about. I'm not sure if we'll get a read on whether or not he's progressing in this area with these quarterbacks and this offensive line, but I plan on pinging Smart Football's proprietor Chris after the year to find out if he's detected any adaptations.



October 21st, 2008 at 1:09 PM ^

Whether or not the play sequence in the Illinois-Missouri game really happened misses the point about any "struggles" this year's Tiger team has.

Last year, they were a 50/50 mix of run and pass. Very hard to defend. This season, its over 60/40. They dont have the playmakers in backfield like Tony Temple last year and they've really become even more reliant on Chase Daniel.

In the opening game, breaking in a new tailback, of course, they're going to put the ball in Daniel's hand--spread offense or no spread offense.

Danielson's argument has a lot of holes in it......I wonder if he will promote this line again on 12/6 when the Florida Gators are playing for the SEC Title?


October 21st, 2008 at 1:16 PM ^

This season has been frustrating, this defense has been frustrating, some play caling has been frustrating, taking abuse from everyone giddy that Michigan is frustrated is frustrating and I want to explode so as clearly as I can think I submit.

 Rodriguez is a good coach

 Rodriguez has had extremely successfull offenses

Rodriguez has had middling talent and was successful

Rodriguez is at Michigan

Good talent comes to Michigan

When this offense gets going I have a list of people that are gonna be hearing a song till the cows come home.  Hopefully sooner but probably sometime in 2010 we are going to be facing a nationally ranked opponent on tv and we are going to roll them up by 55-20 or so to announce our return to the national stage and this will be sung across AA.  Hey Danielson tell me how may ass taste, hey Big 10 tell me how my ass taste, hey little brother tell me how my ass taste, hey vest tell me how my ass taste, hey SEC tell me how my ass taste.  People are taking shots now because they are nervous and they know this may be their last chance for a while, because when this thing gets cranking talent and ass kickins are gonna be flockin to Ann Arbor


October 21st, 2008 at 1:52 PM ^

Danielson's other points:

"(b) they were excellent at the 3-step passing game, but defenses are better at defending against those passes now than they were a decade ago, and (c) his downfield passing game left something to be desired."

are, in a word, ridiculous.

Tulane's downfield passing game not only existed in 1998. It was awesome. How else does one explain the 9.6 yards per attempt of Shaun King in 1998?  Let's first put this into perspective. King threw for 3,495 yards, 38TDs and only 4 INTs in 1998 against ConfUSA, which at that time was equivalent to Division II Pioneer Conference.  King had 5 speed demon receivers that year: PJ Franklin (1,216 yrds, 15.4 yrd/rec and 15 TDs) , Jajuan Dawson (1,030 yrds, 13.9 yrd/rec and 12 TDs), Kerwin Cook (528 yrds, 17 yrd/rec and 4TDs), Jamaican Dartez (209 yrd, 13.9 yrds/rec and 3 TDs), Adrian Burnette (201 yrds, 18.3 yrd/rec, 3 TDs).

Were all of King's passes just quick hitches in the flat against lax coverage that just exploded into huge gains and/or TDs?  No.  Quick hitch passes were definitely in Tulane's repetoire in 1998 under Bowden/Rodriguez, but Tulane did have a downfield passing game (with customary receiver routes, not playground stuff).

Is it too much to ask for sports reporters and pundits like Danielson to do a little research before they make such assinine assertions?



October 21st, 2008 at 1:56 PM ^

what you're quoting is smartfootball, which is probably the best x's and o's football blog out there. dude knows what he's talking about. danielson doesn't


October 21st, 2008 at 2:07 PM ^

i can't say i watched whole lot of tulane or even clemson to really comment on what rod was doing there.  but i've read a bunch of rod's old playbooks and the passing game is sorta rudimentary. that doens't really bother me; he gets guys open and, when equipped with a not awful qb, moves the ball. and thats what matters.  but it's not norm chow level stuff schematically.


also, fwiw, i watched the first half of the texas mizzou game last night and, to my surprise, texas was running the spread the whole time. rod might as well have been calling the plays it was so similar to what we do. so if the spread is dead, someone should tell the #1 team in the country

Pants McPants

October 21st, 2008 at 4:26 PM ^

was a formation, not an offense. Now some teams run a high % passing game primarily out of the spread a la Texas Tech, others run a zone read option, a la WVU, Illinois, which encompasses a lot more running, and there are West Coast offense types as well, etc.