Friday, March 12, 2010

Some offensive theory

Well, you start with recruiting, and the interim coaches, with help from Urban, seem to have done their best to fill holes because you cannot coach talent. What you have to do however is run an offense and defense to suit them. What I love most about Urban Meyer is that he is smart and knows what he wants. He does not recruit a top-class player who does not fit his system but is just too good a playmaker not to have (google: Russell Sheppard, LSU). Meyer even knows how to recruit a complete nobody and turn him into a complete freak (google: Joe Haden - from passing quarterback to monster cornerback).

Meyer's coaching philosophy has a clear framework. 3-4 defense with tall, agile defensive ends and athletic, powerful defensive backs. Spread offense from the shotgun formation. Excellent special teams.

Charlie Strong's pro-style 3-4 defense changes little after his departure with NFL import Teryl Austin taking on his duties. The young defense will still be loaded with heavy talent and not much should look amiss despite the personnel lost. There is not much doubt about the defensive production from the current roster.

What needs to be more addressed is changes on offense. How do you account for the loss of Tim Tebow and the still missed Percy Harvin?

Contrary to popular belief, Urban Meyer's offense is not about pure spread option. In fact it is not about spread at all. It all starts with watching tape. Meyer's offense is about exploiting the defense's weaknesses and doing that with speed. So if you block the run, the passing game will be used to spread the field out and create running lanes (google: Purdue spread). If the secondary steps closer, the run is established to create space for the recievers (google: Northwestern spread). Throw in some zone-read option for short yardage and red-zone offense and you still have a very rudimentary understanding of Meyer's spread offense.

Meyer's true genius is not because he adapted spread elements to the shotgun formation but because he can run any style of offense from the shotgun. In the 2008 SEC championship game, the gators faced a run-stuffing, physical Bama squad that was ready to defend the speed option that Meyer's team used so often that year. Instead, Meyer used a completely out of character West-coast offense for three quarters (except for he ran it out of the shotgun) and had Tebow throw accurate and short passes to the most eligible reciever within a small-window, very close to the defender and he accomplished all of this without Percy Harvin. During the 2009 Sugar Bowl, he executed a high efficiency air-raid offense, something that most critics claimed that Tebow never fit.

The point is that spread is not the focus of Urban Meyer's offense. It is simply the use of talent to exploit the defense's weakness. He just seems to like using the spread out the shotgun more often. And that is why Meyer's offense is hard to defend. You do not know how to prepare if you don't know what you will be served.

So how does Meyer use this philosophy to account for these offensive changes besides just recruiting the best?

It has always been thought that a dual-threat quarterback like Tebow forms the centrepiece of Meyer's offense. Most spread offenses could use that and certainly Meyer's was no exception. However, he still won a national championship with a pure passer in Chris Leak. What has been most consistent with Meyer's offensive schemes through the years is the feature catching tight-end. Though this has been well under the radar until recently, Cornelius Ingram and Aaron Hernandez have had a lion's share in establishing the potency of their offenses. A catching tight-end creates such size mismatches that even a short pass guarantees an additional seven yards. Meyer exploits this heavily with the spread creating one-on-one match-ups. Very little can be done to defend these size mismatches and look for Meyer to continue using a punishing tight-end in Gerald Christian.

Meyer's teams have never had a feature reciever or running back with great yardage over the season. Even the spectacular Percy Harvin never made more than 900 yards recieving or rushing in any season. This is often blamed on the fact that Tebow carries the ball so much and that, in part, is true. However the real reason is the fact that Meyer does not really look to have such a featured back or reciever. In fact, Meyer tries to spread the ball around to different players so much, everytime the ball is snapped, you have a different offense coming at you. That is why a stable of speedy athletes have been recruited every year.

So how do you run an offense with a more pure passer in Johnny Brantley? Do you become more of a passing offense? Actually you don't. You first move Chris Rainey to the slot position and use his speed and deception for big plays. Use Andre DeBose, Chris Dunkley, Deonte Thompson and Frankie Hammond Jr. with a host of others at the two other reciever positions. Use Emmanuel Moody and Mack Brown t0 establish a power running game and use Jeff Demps to turn corners and for bubble screens. Make Mike Gillislee the feature punt and kick returner. Keep using the catching tight-end on important downs. Do not lose the zone-read option. Use Demps and Rainey out of the T-formation (in the shotgun!) for a zone-read/direct snap option with Johnny Brantley running a blocking route to the slot. And finally use Brantley's feet much like how Texas uses Colt McCoy when the play breaks down, the guy can run. Do this and there will be forty points a game again.

Build an offense around the talents of the players Coach Meyer. As always.

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