January 3, 2008

What is "The Spread Offense"?

If you listen to announcers, many of the best teams this year are running "The Spread Offense", a blanket term which they apply indiscriminately to a variety of teams including Texas Tech, Hawaii, Kansas, Florida, and West Virginia. But any alert football fan knows that Mike Leach's crazy passing attack is not the same as the Rich Rodriguez offense. So what gives? Why is the "system" tag applied for some of these schools and not others? Really the only thing these offenses share is the formation. The common theme is a shotgun set with at least three (and usually four or five) receivers.

Texas Tech is the extreme example of the spread passing offense. The Red Raiders threw the ball a staggering 58 times per game (not counting sacks), with rushes accounting for fewer than one quarter of their plays. TT gained almost 8 times as many yards in the air as on the ground.

Hawaii also averaged over 50 pass attempts per game, and had over 600 passes and less than 300 rushes. Yards per carry (YPC) at TT and Hawaii was less than 3.5, and both teams had more than 50 passing TDs.

These offenses are either the Run & Shoot itself or modifications of it. Similar to the West Coast offense, the idea is to spread the field and complete short, safe passes. Running plays are limited to draws to keep the defense honest. The quarterback is almost always in the shotgun and releases the ball quickly to avoid the protection problems created by the lack of blockers, which of course forces most of the routes to be short. In college football, Andre Ware was one of the first Run & Shoot quarterbacks to receive serious national recognition, winning the Heisman in 1989. His flop of a career in the NFL might be the strongest reason for the "system" tag applied to the quarterbacks from these schools. None of Mike Leach's QBs have succeeded in the NFL yet, and Hawaii has a similar record.

On the other hand, West Virginia is a good example of the spread rushing offense. While throwing the ball about 20 times per game, WVa gained almost twice as many yards on the ground as in the air, averaging 6.2 YPC instead of 3.1 for TT.

In 2005, Texas' championship year, Vince threw the ball 325 times compared with 605 rushes (155 of them himself). Urban Meyer and the 2006 champions rushed more than they passed, though they are more balanced (as is Kansas).

The rushing version of the spread is based around a single play, known as the read option or "The Vince Young Play", where the shotgun QB reads the defensive end's rush to determine whether to handoff to the RB crossing his face or to keep and go around the DE. West Virginia, Florida, and Texas have been running this play for at least a couple of years, and the Wildhog formation introduced by Arkansas is the same idea using a RB receiving the direct snap in place of the QB. Now most schools have a version of one or the other in their playbooks, and many have special personnel packages for it. This play and its kin are fundamental option football going back to the single wing. West Virginia's set with two RB's is the triple option disguised by the shotgun, and Pat White is straight from the Tommy Frasier/Eric Crouch mold. Florida's use of Tebow is more like the single wing, though Urban Meyer is brilliant at using a variety of formations to introduce new misdirection and take advantage of his team speed. The system tag is normally not applied because the passing numbers are similar to those of other schools in terms of attempts, so they are directly comparable. The rushing stats of many of these QBs show that they are as much RBs as they are passers. The Titans have had to change their offense to take advantage of Vince's running ability. All of these offenses want to run the ball to set up the pass.

Next time the announcer says "the spread", you'll know he's just looking at the formation, even though he thinks otherwise.

6 Responses:

"ben" said...

But the "spread" is about the formation. There is a passing spread and a spread-option. It's just about spreading out the defense with lots of WRs and creating space.

Brien said...

That's an awesome review, Russell. What about some formation charts and play diagrams? It's not like you have anything else to do :)

big tuna said...

Wow, you figured it out. Yes, they are talking about the formation (from which you can run or pass).

J-Red said...

The Ravens misunderstood and thought the spread offense involved the offensive line spreading out to put as much space between them as possible.

Anonymous said...

I like that spread in the dairy section, the one with chives in it...

Anonymous said...

but the spread even goes deeper then that. the spread has so many differences. slant curls deeps, draws, options, shovel passes.

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