How hard is it to swtich between offenses?

Submitted by ituralde on August 10th, 2010 at 7:32 PM

Yes, I know, we've lived this transition the past two years that says that the transition from Pro to spread/option is not easy.  However, why really was it hard?

Let's consider 3 types of recently successful college offenses and some of the requisites for these to be successful:

Running spread/option (Oregon, West Virginia, Michigan)

  1. An athletic QB that can be a legitimate running threat
  2. Faster, quicker RBs
  3. Speed at reciever
  4. Athletic linemen who can execute zone blocking schemes (so some brains in those sacks of meat), but still strong enough to win blocks in the run game

Passing Spread (Notre Dame, Texas, Texas Tech)

  1. Atheletic linemen who can keep up with dynamic pass rush
  2. Quicker RBs that can run out of the shotgun, but are competent in pass protection
  3. Quicker recievers that can quickly hit routes and get open
  4. At least one big downfield threat
  5. A QB that doesn't fuck up a whole bunch and throw stupid interceptions, and can quickly go through the progressions of recievers to find the open target

Pro (Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Lloyd Carr)

  1. Big, powerful offensive line that can open holes on the inside of a defense
  2. A strong RB that can take the big hits in between the tackles and hold on to the ball
  3. Good TEs that can block for the run game and still catch passes
  4. Absurdly talented WRs that are big enough to pick up blocks downfield while being fast enough and talented enough to win 1-on-1 matchups and vertically stretch the field
  5. A QB with good knowledge of football, big enough to see over linemen, strong armed enough to stretch the field, and smart enough to not throw interceptions.Ideally one that could also play in a passing spread, as the ability to drop back into the shotgun and drive the offense down the field in pressure situations is often the difference between a championship team and a 'good' one.

So really, there are some big differences but still a lot of commonalities. 

Now, the big thing that hurt us was the transition at QB.  We didn't have the QB to provide that alternate run-threat that opens up the running spread. Our offense didn't produce. With the QBs in 09, the offense performed way better.  Really, out offense was beginning to click pretty well last year and a lot of its struggles were a combination of freshman mistakes and injury.  Realistically, the transition was made with only a 1-year megavoid. 

Let's take a look though at that 1-year void. 

As a coach, ideally you want to win with the players you would dream to have, but every coach knows he only has the players available to him.  Simply enough, he didn't have a good run-capable QB on the roster to work with.  That's to be expected, as can be seen above, a run-capable QB isn't on the docket for a Pro-style offense. 

However, RichRod didn't have ANY sort of servicable QB.  For whatever reason, Ryan Mallett bolted.  Nobody remaining could even reliably complete a pass.  If we at least had that, 2008 wouldn't have been the disaster it was.  The o-line wasn't spectacular, but if you had even a solid pro-style QB at the helm, the passing threat could have at least opened up a little bit of run game, and the offense could have looked maybe more like a passing spread.  Instead, 08 was an offense essentially without ANY sort of functioning QB, which would doom any offense, no matter the system change involved.

Long story short, I don't think it's fair to blame the failures on offense in 08 and - by extension - the failures on offense in 09 - on the offense change itself. 

Why discuss this? I'm going to make the argument that - if the season goes poorly and another coaching change was necessary at the end of this year, or for that matter at any time in the future (say richrod retires) - we aren't 'stuck' in this system and don't need to necessarily see another 08-09 stretch once michigan moves on from Rodriguez one way or another. 

Let's first tackle the movement from a Running Spread to a Passing Spread.

A lot of the players you want in these offenses are similar.  Your linemen will be especially atheletic in both, and you'll have a quick RB and quicker recievers.  Having speed at QB won't be a liability either, and will let you make up for potential deficiencies in a pure passing sense.  In fact, having speed at the QB position can make a passing spread more dangerous, as it can open up coverage holes when you send 4 and 5 guys downfield.  This on the whole would be a pretty easy transition - your RBs might be a bit of a liablilty when blocking, and everyone would have growing pains, but the transition wouldn't be on the whole too hard. 

Now, back to pro. 

A little athleticism never hurt anybody. A lot of your people would be undersized, but you'd have some quickness to make up for it.  Up front, you'd have guys that might be a bit smaller than you'd like, but they'd have good technique if they have been well coached.  You might not get a ton of brute-strength push, but you will have guys that know how to think along the line, letting a coach replace that need for brute strength with offensive gameplanning. 

The reciever position is a bit tricky.  You'd have a bunch of awesome slot guys, but you might struggle with having that ultimate WR threat that you really like to have on the outside of a run-heavy pro set.  Still, once again, this isn't the end of the world as you can design routes to take advantage of speed to make up for this. 

The big thing would be RB - running between the tackles isn't the sort of job you want to have a lot of your standard spread-option backs doing.  Steve slaytons of the world are fast and explosive outside, but I wouldn't want one of those guys getting obliterated by a charging LB going full-bore towards a gap.  See: Florida vs Michigan, 2008 Capital One bowl.  Fatalaties are a big stain on a football program.  You basically have to hope that your fast guy is also a tough son-of-a-bitch like Brandon Minor and anticipate your first year or two might be a little more pass-happy.

As for the QB? Ask Ohio State how convenient it is to have your pro-system QB capable of running and juking defenders.  In most cases it's a luxury, but could be relied on in a transition year to keep a team together.

So, for all the people who scrolled past all that (I don't blame you), here are the core points I'm trying to make:

  • There is nothing inherrent about an offense change that would force seasons like the past two we've had.  The driving forces behind that were not having ANY sort of qb whatsoever, passing or otherwise (2008) and then having only true freshmen that make freshman mistakes and get injured doing dangerous freshman things (2009). 
  • Changing offenses post-rodriguez (be it retiring or firing) should not necessarily result in another 08/09 type year on offense simply because the new coach might bring in a new type of offense
  • Because of all this, fuck you to all naysayers to Michigan football, stop pretending that in any way the past two years means long-term problems for the winningest program in history. Eat a dick, sparty.



August 10th, 2010 at 7:45 PM ^

He wasn't the QB for the offense, but he certainly was a "real" QB. He was nationally recruited, and is now competing for a starting job at a BCS school (Arizona State).

I do agree that attrition was a huge problem for us in 2008 - it seemed like almost everyone who was eligible for the NFL left, and we certainly had a lot of transfers because of the offensive change. I think the fear in another coaching change is a similar amount of attrition would be repeated.

Also, there is a big mental difference between a traditional offense and a spread offense. The lingo itself takes getting used to, and the philosophy of blocking can be tough to learn. This is coming from a guy who had to learn a new spread offense my senior year of high school because our old coach retired after a quarter century. What happened at Michigan the last two years is eerily familiar. The good news is that in year 3 (my sophomore year at M) we were one game from the state title, and we actually went to the title game my senior year at M (#42 at Michigan was a senior on my high school's team that year).


August 10th, 2010 at 8:20 PM ^

Steven Threet appears to be a gentleman and a scholar, so this not a personal attack on him.

I'd argue that he wasn't a QB for any offense in '08.  Part of that was obviously youth and inexperience, but he still hasn't shown that he'll be anywhere near an above-average D-1 football player.  His stats in ASU's spring game were pretty bad.

As for recruiting rating, there are misses every year.  Kevin Grady (5 stars in '05), anyone?  Threet looks like a miss at this point.  There's still time and he could wind up OK.

I'd like to remind everyone that recruiting rankings (specifically, UM's classes of '05 to '07) have repeatedly been used to beat the UMich head coach over the head.  Not entirely fair...


August 10th, 2010 at 7:50 PM ^

I'm not sure where this notion of a necessary speedy running back comes from with spread options.

Jonothan Stewart, Legarrette Blount, and Brandon Minor were all standouts in this offense and were bruisers.


August 10th, 2010 at 8:24 PM ^

Valid analysis..who knows, the right coach with a pro-style offense could come in and utilize the current talent and win a lot of games in 2011...but more than the current staff with another year, another recruiting class, another year of GERG establishing his defense? Not likely.  Another coaching change would set the program back, no question in my mind.  Year one was tough, but we should have seen that coming..instead of a gradual transition, utilizing the talent at hand, perhaps convincing Mallet to stay with the promise of a hybrid offense, Rich Rod chose to rip the band-aid off and start the transition from day one. We win 2 more games last year and the national conversation is completely different, with the pundits talking about the RR trend and extrapolating the win total in linear fashion to predict a 9 or 10 win season.  So what happened last year after going 4-0? Insurmountable Injuries...that isn't brought up very much. Losing Molk was devastating (isn't center the second most important position in this offense?). Tate was banged up and never the same..2 awesome senior backs never healthy...can anyone name a year with more significant injuries? without those injuries we win 7 or 8 and go to a winnable bowl, and 9 or 10 wins is EXPECTED this year.


August 10th, 2010 at 9:00 PM ^

I think a young inexperienced, not fully developed O line had something to do with Threet's troubles in '08.

Tate might thrive in a Passing Spread and may do OK in a transition to a Pro Style. Assuming his passing game comes on, Devin is the true fit in that Pro Style transition.

We were doing zone blocking in '06 and '07, so now that we have these spiffy mobile and big o lineman, I see no issues there.

And then there is the defense which is young but not so decimated ...

Depending on the incoming coach, and whether the players believe they'll develop and win under him (and thus not transfer or go early for the draft), a transition could be less painful.

All that said, I'll step down off the precipice, and just root for our current staff to be successful starting in 24 days and some change.

OSUMC Wolverine

August 10th, 2010 at 9:42 PM ^

If RR is not given his four years, I will lose any and all respect for the leadership in the athletic department.  It is simply pathetic to hear the discussion on a daily basis.  Stupidity at that level by the AD could go so far as to drive long time Michigan fans elsewhere not to mention no coach with a head on his shoulders would even consider the job.  RR will win a Big Ten title in the next 2-3 years and all will be as it should be, until he takes an NFL job to officially bring the spread to the next level.

No more whining please from the cheap seats, or searching for replacements, or predicting doom and gloom.  Its time for everyone outside of the program to just man up and support the team.  See you all at UConn.

03 Blue 07

August 10th, 2010 at 10:07 PM ^

Couldn't plow through the whole OP,but I think I got the gist, and from playing football, I can tell you the small details of each play, and the encyclopedic (at times) terminology make it very, very difficult to switch between offenses. Your team is only as smart as your "dumbest" player on the field at any given time, and guys get very confused, and are also thinking too much about what the play actually is rather than reacting and thinking on a higher level (such as, "remember to pump my arms faster to somewhat distract and create an optical illusion in a split-second in the eyes of that corner as I actually slow my legs out of the break on this route"'/"the safety is shaded two steps to the left, I have an opening on the right with a stutter move on this post-corner" by a wide receiver, for example, pre-snap. This is what I would call "thinking on a higher level," as opposed to "wait, shit- is this X Go 335 Snap? Shit. Is that the same as Y Stop 335 Curl? Ahh, shit, this isn't going to end well"). Confusion by one guy can and often does usually screw up the entire play.

EDIT: I'm an idiot; I definitely misunderstood the OP on the first pass through. The difficulties I outline above are the difficulties faced when installing a new offense, or even a new package.

Sac Fly

August 10th, 2010 at 10:58 PM ^

... from spread to pro-style with less difficulty than pro-style to spread. Blocking is simpler, but the biggest part is the QB. A spread quarterback can play in a pro system, a pocket passer can't play in a spread.


August 10th, 2010 at 11:02 PM ^

I thiink that the difficulty in switching from Pro to Spread is overstated.  PSU went from Morelli (Pro) to Clark (Spread) and got significantly better from 2007 to 2008.  OSU went from Boeckman to Pryor without much of a glitch.  Even Pryor adjusted his "style" throughout the season last year.  To a lesser extent, Cincinnati went from Pike to Collaros last year and they each ran the offense a different way.

Hell, Chad Henne ran a passing spread for the first time in the last game of his four year career and that worked out pretty well.

I think that it's more about the experience and talent of the personnel than it is about the innate difficulty of a particular scheme.


August 11th, 2010 at 8:16 AM ^

I think the shift from pro to passing-spread with the right QB is not as much a stretch. In both the OSU and Penn State cases, the right QB was in place (with a at least partially experienced line). Ironically, I think TP may be a better run-spread QB than passing-spread, and Tate may be better suited to a passing-spread. (Though I am quite happy to have Tate.)