It’s not your father’s two-quarterback system. In their wild 47-45 shootout loss to Baylor, ULM brought out a rarely seen wrinkle, a two-quarterback zone-read-esque system. ULM coach Todd Berry put both of his quarterbacks in the game and had his right hander take the snap and flow to the right while his left hander take the mesh point and roll left. It was good for a couple of completions and a semi-frantic timeout by Baylor. (H/t BestCoastFootball.)
I’ve seen this before (and no, the so-called A-11 did not invent it and in fact those teams rarely if ever actually used two quarterbacks/potential throwers). Most ignominiously, I remember Purdue using it a few years ago when their top two or three quarterbacks all went down with injury (didn’t work as well then). It’s a fun wrinkle; I’d be curious to hear from anyone that has used this and about their success.
Spring games typically don’t make for very compelling watching, but anytime you have a new coaching staff, the interest is heightened somewhat because it’s the first and often only glimpse at how the new staff’s schemes will mesh with the existing talent. And of course I’ve been looking forward to the return of Mike Leach to the sideline, and to see how his offense may have evolved in his couple of years away from the game.
As expected, one answer is simple: Not much, nor should it be much different. The offense got lots of mileage early out of four verticals and the mesh concept, for example. But there’s some somewhat new stuff here, primarily in the use of pistol sets from the backs, some multiple runningback sets and motion with those guys in the backfield, and even some play-action and “pop” passes. Much of it is familiar to offenses run by other Airraid graduates, but is somewhat new to Coach Leach’s more traditional attack. I expect Washington State to have a few struggles in the fall, but it should be fun to see how quickly the offense comes together and what new wrinkles Leach adds in.
Good stuff from former NC State, New York Jets and Arizona State assistant and current UCLA offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone. Particularly good stuff on practice philosophy and how to have base plays and how to solve problems (i.e. with constraint plays). Says he goes into a game with no more than about 32-35 plays, total. Also, make sure to watch the eighth and last video, as it covers Mazzone’s packaged concept where he combines a quick three-step pass combo with a slow screen to the other side, which I’ve discussed previously.
Update: The videos have been taken down. There’s a comment that the clinic asked the person who uploaded them to take them down; if so, I didn’t know they were uploaded without any permission. I will try to address some of Noel’s stuff in the future on here.
The 2000s were undoubtedly the decade of the spread offense. We’re still feeling the reverberations of the tectonic shifts; what began in backwater practice fields, the synthesis of old ideas with new ones, is now omnipresent — overexposed, quite possibly — on most levels of football, and even the NFL is now beginning to adapt. Some of this charge is led by innovative coaches; some by fan request; some simply by players too good to not be part of a changing landscape.
Sons of the spread
The spread was not born on November 4, 2000, when lowly Northwestern, coached by the late Randy Walker, defeated Michigan, but that was the day it no longer belonged to the fringe: It had been conceived long before, from a variety of parents, but that day it was born to the world, live on our TV screens. I’ve previously written about the game and what it meant going forward.
Northwestern defeats Michigan 54-51. This is shocking enough. Northwestern scored fifty-four points against a Michigan team known for great defense and great defensive talent. Doubly shocking. Quarterback Zak Kustok threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Not so shocking from a spread quarterback in victory. We’d seen the run and shoot before; Drew Brees, also in the Big 10 playing for Purdue, commonly put up big passing numbers in a spread-to-pass system. Indeed, don’t they always have to throw for this much to win? That’s why they get in the gun, right?
But wait, there’s another stat.
Northwestern Rushing: 332 Yards; 6.64 average per carry. 332 yards.
What? Three-Hundred and Thirty Yards rushing?
How did they do that? Yes their running back had a huge day, but the yards that also made everyone sit up and take notice were the 55 yards from Northwestern’s quarterback, Zak Kustok – hardly Vince Young or Pat White [or Cam Newton] in raw athleticism. But the light went off across the country. If Zak Kustok can do it, maybe my guy can too. And even if he’s not superman just the threat that he can make the defense pay if they over pursue by getting me eight yards, then let’s do it.
And if by the threat of the quarterback, that opened up my runningback for the huge day, then we’d really have something. The gateway for the ubiquity of the spread — by definition, a system with multiple receivers — was not by appealing to every coach’s impulse to be Mike Leach and throw it 50 times a game; believe it or not, most coaches do not want to be Mike Leach. Instead if you could show them how to run the ball for 300 yards and score 54 points against an historically great rushing defense, that is something people will sign up for. Walker and his offensive coordinator, former Oklahoma offensive coordinator and current Indiana head coach, Kevin Wilson, were traditional, power, tight-end and fullback guys. If they could make it work — against that opponent — well, there was hope for everyone.
More than a decade later, maybe the spread is already past its prime. (more…)
And most interestingly, a reader pointed me to a slight wrinkle on the stick/draw combination that Oregon under Chip Kelly ran in their spring game last year: a quick pass combined with a shovel pass. See the diagram and video below (note that the diagram is not entirely accurate; I drew the “stick” concept but Oregon actually ran “spacing,” which I like as a concept but like less for this purpose).
I point this out because I actually like the quick pass plus the shovel play more than I like the draw. The blocking scheme for the line remains the same: basic draw blocking, potentially with a fold technique, though you can also try to leave a defensive end unblocked if you’re willing to read him. But doing it as a shovel pass over the draw has a number of advantages, I think.
Awhile back I talked about the potential for a “quadruple option,” where a zone-read or other spread option run was married with a two man pass concept. The idea was essentially an extension of the traditional base run packaged with a bootleg pass, just combined into one play.
There are obviously issues with keeping linemen behind the line of scrimmage, but it’s an intriguing concept though not a simple one for the quarter. Indeed, I’d seen it, but only rarely.
Well, I just stumbled across a recent example of something similar (though technically it doesn’t look like there were actually two pass options on the play). Watch the first play that Pittsburgh scores on in the video below:
Although this was successful, it’s not something I expect to see too prevalently, as the feedback I’ve heard from most coaches is that it’s a lot to put on a player; that the bubble read for the triple option in the spread is usually all the quarterback can handle. Nevertheless, for those bold enough to try it, the above video shows that success is possible.
The Run and Shoot is one of my favorite offenses, and I’ve long believed that it still has a lot to teach us, even if it was supposedly “discredited” or is defunct. It’s foundational play was and remains the “Go” concept, which I’ve previously described:
["Go"] is a “trips” formation play — in the ‘shoot, the concepts are typically designed around whether you are in “doubles” (two receivers to each side) or trips, three to one side and a single receiver on the other. The routes are fairly simple. The outside man to the trips side runs a mandatory “go” or “streak” — he releases outside and takes his man deep. It’s important that the receiver take a “mandatory outside release” — i.e. if the corner is rolled up and tries to force the receiver inside, he still must do all he can to release outside and get up the sideline. This is imperative for many reasons, among them to keep the near safety stretched and to widen the defenders to open the flat route.)
The middle slot runs the seam read, outlined above. The inside receiver runs a quick flat or “sweep” route: he takes a jab step upfield and then rolls his route to five yards in the flat. An important coaching point is that this player must come right off the seam reader’s hip; you’re looking for a rub against man to man.
On the backside, the receiver runs a streak but if he cannot beat the defender deep, he will stop at 15-16 yards and come back down the line of his route to the outside. The runningback is usually in the protection, but if not needed, he will leak out to the weakside.
Before Mike Leach or Dana Holgorsen, there was John Jenkins of run-and-shoot fame as maybe the original air-it-out southwest mad scientist (other than Dutch Meyer of TCU, of course). Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what Houston was doing on offense was heresy, particularly the way they did it: by slaughtering foes with outrageous scores and stats whenever possible. Indeed, Jenkins was putting up “video game statistics” — 700 yard passing games, 80 or 90 points — before football video games could even keep those kinds of statistics. And then of course, aside from his outrageous offense, there was simply the outrageous man. From a famous SI profile at the time:
“Hey, Hoss, the main reason people play football is for fun, and this offense is fun,” [former Houston Cougars coach John] Jenkins says. “All it is, is throwing and catching. Our guys are out there all summer practicing throwing and catching. Can you imagine players in the wishbone wanting to go out and practice in 100-degree heat? What do they say, ‘Hey, Hoss, let’s go out and block each other. You hurt me, then I’ll bust you!’ ”
. . . Last December, when Houston ended its 10-1 season by devastating Arizona State 62-45 in the Tokyo Dome, Cougar quarterback David Klingler set an NCAA single-game record by passing for 716 yards. Only he didn’t know he was nearing the record until somebody on the sideline mentioned it. “It was Jenkins,” Klingler said later. “He kept trying to find out what [yardage] I had.” In the postseason Blue-Gray game, Jenkins installed the run-and-shoot for the Gray team and then used a megaphone to shout out the plays. “That wasn’t right,” said an opposing coach. “In games like that you should run offenses…that both teams will understand.”
It is the numbers—especially the outrageously lopsided scores that his offense has engendered — that have bathed Jenkins in so much scalding acid. Scores like 60-0, 82-28, 66-15, 69-0, 65-7, 66-10 and 64-0 have become commonplace in the Houston record book since 1987, when Jenkins became the offensive coordinator under coach Jack Pardee….
Jenkins does not claim to have invented the offense, by the way, only to have expanded it…. “Everything’s similar, but different,” Jenkins says. “We’re more advanced, more complex. Tinkering with this deal, messing with it in my head, the possibilities through the avenues in the air are so unlimited it’s scary.”
Jenkins actually converses in this hip-poetic, mad-scientist fashion, and he really does believe he has come upon the secret of the football universe—”like NASA discovering some new solar system,” he says. “Other teams are crawling, we’re flying.”
Paranoid — isn’t every coach? — about revealing the intimate details of his offense, Jenkins lectures at clinics only on fundamentals, prohibits other college coaches from watching his practices and keeps a shredder over his office wastebasket, the better to keep the eyes of spies from the 350-page workbooks he issues to Houston’s skill-position players every week. “Do IBM and Xerox share their policies so some competitor can come in later and kick their butts?” says Jenkins.
Tony Fitzpatrick, a Houston assistant coach who played for the Gamblers when both Davis and Jenkins were assistant coaches there, says, “Jenks is so far ahead of everybody else, it’s a joke. Mouse comes in here now, looks at our films and even he doesn’t understand them. Spreading the field? Mouse had [the Gamblers'] slot guys split arm’s length from the tackles. Jenks would have them start their routes over by the Gatorade carts if he could.”
As the video clips above and below show, what Jenkins was doing in 1992 looks a lot like what teams are doing only now, almost twenty years later.
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