Flexibility of the spread option offense

Submitted by briandtw on September 23rd, 2008 at 12:13 PM

I've been meaning to post this for awhile, but I wanted to point out to any Michigan fans nervous about how the spread option offense might perform or look in future years -- instead of looking back south at how Rich Rodriguez's offenses moved the ball at West Virginia, look 150 miles north at the Central Michigan offense.

CMU's head coach Butch Jones is a disciple of RichRod and I'm using that word very carefully.  When he came to Central from West Virginia, Jones even lifted a lot of Rodriguez's catchphrases ("hold the rope") and an identical banner hangs in the CMU weight room as the one Mike Barwis/RichRod put up in the new Michigan room (Through these doors walk the best conditioned, most disciplined, and hardest working football team in America).

CMU runs the same spread option that Michigan now does, with one major difference -- Jones was smart enough to adapt the offense to fit the strengths of Dan LeFevour. (Also, CMU's running backs are nowhere near as talented as Michigan's so they run the ball with RBs considerably less).  So, you still get the same zone read runs, but there is a lot more four and five WR sets and downfield passing, mainly because Jones was lucky enough to inherit one of the best QBs in the country. 

The result -- last year LeFevour threw for 3,650 yards and ran for 1,100.  He's on pace for 3,400 yards passing and 600 rushing this year and that's with the weakest defensive teams on their schedule yet to come.

The upshot is that while I have no doubt that Rodriguez would like to recruit QBs who are mobile and quick (a prerequiste in the spread option, no doubt), if Beaver or Forcier or some future QB shows the aptitude for throwing the ball that Pat White apparently doesn't and will never possess, you'll see a lot more balance out of the Michigan offense.  I personally have no doubts that Rodriguez will be able to maximize the abilities of future offenses.



September 23rd, 2008 at 12:38 PM ^

I wonder how long it's going to take and how much information like this it's going to take before everybody realizes RR only ran so much at WVU because Pat White had such poor passing skills.

Granted, I think that school of thought is held mostly by opposing fans who want to view Rodriguez in the worst light possible, but I still see it a lot (I probably visit RCMB too much).


September 23rd, 2008 at 1:00 PM ^

bsb -- You're obviously right that Michigan has looked nothing like West Virginia, but that's also kind of the point I was trying to make.

I've probably heard a lot of crap from opposing fans like GCS mentioned and lately I've been starting to hear from Michigan fans that they don't think Rodriguez is going to be able successfully port his offense to Michigan, mostly I think because it hasn't looked anything like West Virginia. (And by look like, I mean not necessarily the success, just the similar emphasis on running the ball, especially by the QB).

My larger point that I maybe didn't elucidate clearly enough is that ideally the QB is always going to have a role in running the ball in the RR spread option. That's not going to be the case this year, partly because of the weakness of the OL, but mostly because that's not Threet's strength.

But the role of the QB running the ball in the spread option isn't predicated on taking away from the passing offense (as it seems to at WVU with Pat White).

A QB who can throw the ball for 3,000+ and run the ball for 1,000+ likely represents a perfect ratio for what the spread option will be able to accomplish in future years.

With the advantages Michigan possesses in recruiting I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan QBs regularly approaching those kinds of statistics in future years.


September 23rd, 2008 at 1:05 PM ^

...I realize someone is going to likely insist I'm crazy for stating that Michigan QBs are going to regularly be able to approach those kinds of numbers (3,000/1,000) statistically, especially since it has only been done twice in NCAA history (Vince Young and LeFevour), but I really believe that.

Over 13 games, that averages out to about 240 passing yards and 85 rushing yards a game. I think that represents the kind of balance and effectiveness that we're likely to see out of the QB position eventually. Add in about 150 yards rushing or so per game from the RB position and that's about a 50/50 balance across rushing and passing.


September 23rd, 2008 at 1:26 PM ^

I don't think 470 total yards (240 + 80 + 150) is an unreasonable expectation for this offense once RR has everything in place. It might seem a bit high, but last year, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, etc., were all between about 450 and 490 yards off offense. Other than Texas, Oklahoma and Florida in that group, I think it's safe to say that Michigan will regularly have more offensive talent (and probably better coaching) than any of those schools.


September 23rd, 2008 at 1:42 PM ^

I think a few more people may be realizing now, that the reason RR ran so much with White, is because he really couldn't throw, as evidenced by the last few WVU games.

I'm really excited about what this offense could become with a true dual-threat QB, a strong group of receivers, both slot and deep threat, and this talented group of RBs. Throw in some good TEs and a solid O-line, and there will just be too many ways for this offense to attack a defense. (We have some of these parts already, but are lacking in other areas.)


September 23rd, 2008 at 2:48 PM ^



September 23rd, 2008 at 3:45 PM ^

Just look at Shaun King (RR was offensive coordinator at Tulane). While his rushing numbers in college were good, no way is he as talented a rusher as White, and he was primarily a passer.

This from Tulane's website:

When it was all over, he had become the first NCAA 1-A player ever to amass 3000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing in an 11 game regular season, and had established a new NCAA 1-A passing efficiency record of 183.3. While impressive, those statistics do not begin to describe the game-by-game impact that Shaun King's 38 TD passes and 11 rushing touchdowns had on Tulane's unbeaten run to the Conference USA football championship, a decisive win over Brigham Young in the Liberty Bowl and a season ending No. 7 national ranking.


September 23rd, 2008 at 3:46 PM ^

Great Job! This is actually something I was wanting to write back in July. I'm currently a student at CMU and watch the games whenever I can. I worked for the team last year in a manager position so I had the chance to see things behind the scenes a little bit more. When Boren left I was raged to hear that he blamed it on "family values", since each Tuesday (i may be wrong with the day of the week) the coaching staff brings wives and children to practice and let the kids play and learn from the guys. Wives of the coaching staff will often bring players food (much little cheerleaders would do for "their" player in high school), and will take the young men in and make them feel much more at home while in Mount Pleasant. I'm not at all nervous about the future of Michigan football.

One little side note though to remember is that Brian Kelly was the coach here before Jones. Kelly runs a similar spread offense (key word similar). It is not based as much around the zone read, but it is similar enough to note that the change in coaching staff was not as big of a deal as it currently is at Michigan.

As I said before, I'm not worried about the future in Ann Arbor. Each week it will get better and better. GO BLUE!!


September 24th, 2008 at 10:16 AM ^

are pass first QB's. This bodes well for Michigan because unlike White, they have the ability to stand in the pocket and read coverages. RR being at Michigan should continue to bring in dual-threat QB's that have a pass first mentality.

    As for the 3000 / 1000 marks stated above: CMU has no real RBs to carry the load, so LeFevour is the real running threat and Young was a run first QB so he took off when ever he felt a little pressure. At Michigan, they should have a lot better stable of RBs than CMU has ever had and Michigan's QB's of the future should be of the pass first mentality.