The Spread Offense is the Devil

In football, we have become accustomed to seeing different types of offenses take over the game and become copied and tweaked by teams searching for success. Just think; since the beginning of the game being played, we've evolved from the Wing T offense, to the  Option, to the Pro Set, to the  West Coast, and the Run and Shoot.

Of course the offense du jour that you can see in nearly every single football game is the spread. From what has evolved from going to four-wide sets, to five-wide sets to the spread-run option set, it is an offense that gives teams that lack elite talent an opportunity to compete and attack deficiencies in most defenses. It has allowed programs like Texas Tech, Hawaii, Houston and every school in the MAC to stay relevant in the evolution of college football.

What's interesting is that in the Big 12 conference's de facto conference championship, the two teams who run the pure spread offense run it better than anyone in college football. One team has needed the spread to take their program to the brink of being a national contender. The other team has no business really running the spread, but has done so to extreme levels of success, but their ultimate prize has eluded them time-and-time again.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys need the spread to become the program they've always dreamed they could be, and the Oklahoma Sooners have become so dependent on the spread that they've lost their identity as a football program, which is why the spread offense, utlimately, is the devil.

For years, Oklahoma State has tried to become the program that also serves as their rival right down I-35 south. They've done jersey upgrades, spent gobs of money on the program and thrown holy water on the players. They've officially hit the same peak that Texas Tech and Missouri hit years prior and, ultimately they came crashing back down, because they had no idea how to get better. Is Oklahoma State really capable of overcoming the same fate that befell those other programs?

Ever since Oklahoma rose as a football power in the early days of the Bud Wilkinson dynasty to the powerhouse that was rebuilt in the Barry Switzer era, those teams and players have been known for a significant brand of football. Yes, both were option-based, power run offenses. It was their identity, it was what those teams did best, and they embodied it. They were brash and cocky, because they knew not only who they were but how good they were. It's what gives all great teams that final edge.

Of course, this discussion isn't about Wilkinson and Switzer. This is a discussion about Bob Stoops.

When Oklahoma won the 2001 national championship over Florida State, the thought of the new era of powerhouse football from the boys in Norman began dancing in my head. An elite defense teamed with a strong blend of a running game and an aerial attack, Oklahoma seemed poised and ready to win championships.

Then the offense began to change.

During the days of Quentin Griffin and Renaldo Works, the Sooners always found a way to be smash-mouth with the running game, when the time called for it. Even with the evolving passing attack under Stoops, the likes of the great Adrian Peterson couldn't resist the temptation of joining the fraternity of great tailbacks that had passed through Norman. Initially, Stoops would give Peterson the ability to be the elite back everyone dreamed he'd be. Running out of the I-formation, lumbering down the line and ultimately breaking big run after big run. Then, Stoops would bring him into shotgun, and have him offset the quarterback. Peterson's success was still grand, but seemed like those big plays didn't come was frequently as before.

Then Demarco Murray signed at Oklahoma, and early on we knew that we had another great back. His run against Texas as a freshman made Sooners fans for a split-second forget who Adrian Peterson was. Yet, with the shift in the offense, more receivers on the field, more passing than running and more points going on the board...things had changed with the Oklahoma offense. By the time Demarco left Norman, he was nothing more than a glorified third-down back.

What was once a balance of smash-mouth running and precision passing has turned into an aerial assault on steroids. With Stoops esteemed program status and the abilities to get the elite players in America, instead of plugging two and three-star guys and getting the most out of them, Oklahoma had four and five-star guys doing things with ease. Scoring 40...50....60 points a game was nothing, as Jason White, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones began carving up offenses like turkeys on the fourth Thursday in November. Heisman's were won, high draft picks were secured and expectations continued to be through the roof...

...and not a single national title was won.

Something had changed at Oklahoma, outside of the offense. The mentality of the team was different; a finesse feel. As a team running an offense that came easy to them (hell, most of the players were already running a spread offense in high school), it seemed that when an opposing team would stand tall against them, they didn't have any real retort. If someone tried to bully Oklahoma and took away what worked well in the spread offense, there was no other option. In short, Oklahoma had become what Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State can only dream is their next step of their evolution: being a ten-win team who wins consistently, but always falls short in the biggest games when teams figure out ways to slow their finesse offense down. The inability to consistently run the ball (terrible), the inability to score in the red-zone (egregious), and the effect the spread has on the defense (the defense gets less rest, they don't practice against a hard-nosed offense, and the lapses in the defense are atrocious) are all major factors in the spread's negative effect on a team.

Lets be clear here: it's not that the spread offense hasn't proven to be successful. Moreso, the way that folks run the spread, and the mentality that must be instilled in keeping the physical nature of a team is difficult and must be embodied by your best players on the team.

Vince Young, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton immediately come to mind.

Three guys who could get tough yards, still have a tough and physical presence and make enough throws to help their team succeed in both phases of the ball is what pushed those teams over the edge. Hell, they were downright scary. A shotgun-read option with Vince long-striding off-tackle, or Tebow doing play-action jump passes to Hernandez time-and-time again, or Cam just leaping four yards from the line of scrimmage and bullying his way into the endzone. They made defenses think, they made defenses respect both phases of the game, and they empowered their team to be as brash and confident as the leaders that pushed them.

Of course, not everyone is so blessed to have superstar dual-threat quarterbacks like the ones just mentioned. You could just be an LSU or Alabama and become so strong in your belief that you can run the ball on anybody, play defense against anybody and manage the passing game like you would a 20-year old driving a Ferrari (hint) that you are smart and aggressive, while being keen to preach not making mistakes. You have the talent pool of the football Gods and you do things to keep things simple: making sure players stay out of their own way, and put players in the ultimate position to succeed. It's a formula that's worked quite well.

However, even if you don't have the elite talent in your backyard, you still can be elite. Do you ever notice that TCU and Boise State both run a pro-style offense? That they play supremely sound defense, and they embody their coaches' belief in the system and personality? On any given day, TCU and Boise State can beat anyone in the country. They play the same brand of ball that LSU and Alabama does, yet they must be more savvy in recruiting and become more fearless in empowering their players. Now, through consistent winning and a brand of football that's appealing to young athletes and apparel companies, their resources are aplenty and both are now as elite as any top team in the country.

The spread passing offense was meant to give teams that lacked resources a chance to be competitive. When teams like Oklahoma and Oregon run the spread, its an embarrassment of riches. Against 95% of the country, they're able to defeat almost every foe. Yet, when they face teams that are so accustomed to seeing the spread offense week-in-and-week-out (Oklahoma) or you face a team that's as physical, as fast and is able to slow down what you do best (Oregon), then leaping that final hurdle can be mightily difficult.

I've become the spoiled sports fan that I hated in years past; the fan of a powerhouse team that cries that my team "only" wins 10-11 games, but because we don't win the title, I'm complaining and whining. The spread did this to me, and for the last ten years, the spread has spread like the plague on my favorite program. I didn't notice it, because I was infected with the plague, too. It's beautiful to see your team slang the pill all around the field, running up the score and looking good in the process. Yet, it's clear that it's not conducive to winning titles. It's what we claim to "do" in Oklahoma and until things change, we won't be doing anything resembling a championship anytime soon.

Death to the spread offense....a therapy session.

11 Replies to “The Spread Offense is the Devil”

    1. OU definitely did run the spread, but the influence of the run was still prevalent. For whatever reason those early Sooners teams under Stoops (I honestly think it was because of the players that Blake recruited and the mentality that HE gave them) were just tougher and grinded more. From Griffin to Works to Littrell, they focused on a good run/pass balance. Over time that ratio has declined. Yes, even with 2 1,000 yard rushers in Demarco/Chris Brown. In the last 5 years, they've never had the ability to just run the ball when they wanted to.

  1. I feel your pain my brother. I watched Michigan put out some great college backs: Tshimunga Biakabatuka, Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry, and Mike Hart for 12 years. Receives were plentiful with Amani Toomer, Tai Streets, David Terrell, Marquise Walker, Jason Avant, Braylon Edwards, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. I saw some great college quarterbacks with Brian Griese, Drew Henson, Tom Brady, and Chad Henne. Ryan Mallett was waiting in the wings at Michigan.

    Then we get Dickrod and all of my previous joy was gone. The downhill running, prostyle attack went by the wayside. Pounding weaker teams into submission and epic battles with Ohio went by the wayside. What did I get for my suffering? A 3 win season, a 5 win season, and a 7 win season with the only joy being watching Denard Robinson score from all over the field.

    You obviously don't know my suffering being a fan of the Sooners. But I definitely see where you're coming from as a fan of a team that moved from pro-style, beat 'em up football to this spread/finesse nonsense.

    1. Those Michigan teams in the 90's were unfair, and in truth, I think it was because they were breeding pro prospects in a pro system. Problem is, Lloyd probably stayed 3-4 years too long. They didn't need a Michigan man, the needed a man with a plan similar to what they were already doing but just more contemporary. The Wolverines went from apples to kiwi and mangos with the spread-read option with Rich Rod. Personally, I love RichRod, but he should've stayed at West Virginia or went to a program where better talent was available. He had to take that gig just for the money and THE chance to turn it around.

      He's gonna turn it around in Arizona, and they're going to end up being a problem if he can find a QB to run his system. Just watch.

  2. @Vernon - Tshimunga Biakabatuka; 16 years later, the name still makes Buckeye fans cringe. That was a low blow, sir. lol

    Urban says he's bringing the spread to Ohio State. That's fine if you have the personnel for it. But too many coaches fall in love with their system and try to plug square pegs into round holes.

    The spread offense requires great depth at WR and pass catching tight ends. Did Urban see any of Ohio State's games this season? Our passing attack was somewhere between Woody Hayes and the Flintstones.

    Go slow, Urban. Work with what you have and recruit for what you want to do later.

    1. I THINK URBAN IS SMART ENOUGH TO WORK WITH WHAT HE HAS AND WORK HIS SYSTEM AROUND THOSE PLAYERS AS HE RECRUITS THE GUYS HE 'NEEDS' TO RUN HIS OFFENSE AT THE LEVEL HE AND THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL WOLRD HAS COME TO EXPECT FROM HIS TEAMS...

  3. @Ed--I hope RR is successful out there. He's a stone's throw away from Cali and he's got all those inroads in Florida. Subtract the cold weather and big, physical defenses of the B1G and you've got a recipe for success. I've got no ill will toward him. Michigan ending up where it is now is as much the fault of people inside who wanted to see him fail than as it is his fault for not caring about defense. I know his intention wasn't to turn Michigan into a joke for 3 years.

    @JAG--One thing I think Ohio is getting with Urban that Michigan didn't get with Rich Rod is a coach who will mold his spread to personnel. When Florida had Chris Leak at QB, Florida's spread looked different than when Tim Tebow was the quarterback. I didn't get to see a lot of Ohio football this year as I was at Michigan games 9 of 12 Saturdays, but Jordan Hall looks like he has some talent. He and Miller could be a formidable duo in a shotgun read option type offense. But yeah, recruiting focus is going to vastly change. Rich Rod's first class he took like 14 receivers lol.

  4. the key is having a spread that matches up with the style of defense you play and having help in the backfield... Cam and Tebow were successful because they were big bruising QBs who were just as big or if not bigger than some of the LB/DL that they faced so they could take the hit and keep moving and they also had running backs that kept the defenses honest, you couldnt key on Tebow because of the speed backs and dyer even as a freshman made the SEC hesitate which was enough time for Cam.

    whereas Denard is barely 190lbs and put up against the the burling B10 and until this midway through this season didnt have a running back that teams HAD to respect in Toussaint, so it was nothing to put 9 in the box and dare an inaccurate QB to beat you in the air. This year there was success bucause the defense had to hesitate in facing Fitz/Shoelace (not to mention the D was good enough to hold the fort when the offense wasnt clicking)

    @JAG yeah people thinking its ready set go once Urban gets there but they still need some help on the offense to get them to where he wants

    I think RR will be cool in Arizona for two reasons the pressure wont be as stiff as it was at U-M and more importantly he has the freedom to recruit those borderline players (JUCO and suspect grades) that he could never get into U-M... the state of AZ has had a couple of great players the past couple years and if he can convince them to be wildcats they have a chance to compete with the division title in the PAC12 right behind USC, once they come off their sanctions

  5. Great post and great points. However I would disagree. I think the spread offense is not the devil, but rather just an evolution of how get offenses to dominate the game. Defenses used to dominate the league (dooms day, steel curtain, purple people eaters,etc...), but now with the spread offense it gives an offense to expose defenses. How would you make Ray Lewis and Polamalu irrelevant. You wouldn't line up and pound the football. Get them out of their comfort zone SPREAD them out and create mismatches in your favor. To me the spread offense is just a very creative offensive game plan to give your offense an edge.

    Sidebar. I do not like the spread option (Tebow), but your spread offenses such as Green Bay Packers. see here --------------> http://themancave06.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the-spread-offense-what-football-purists-should-know/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.