June 24, 2009

Is Urban Meyer abandoning the spread offense??

Interesting article here on the evolution of Urban Meyer's offense down at Florida. When you think of Urban Meyer, you usually think of the spread option offense. That's his bread and butter ever since he's been at Bowling Green. Dink passes, option reads, little gimmick plays designed to get the ball to playmakers in space. I'm pretty sure every defensive coordinator in the SEC still has nightmares about a middle screen to Percy Harvin that he takes for 60 yards.

It's an exciting offense to watch and obviously has been incredibly successful with two national titles in the last three years, but it is very much a college offense. You don't see any NFL teams running the spread option as a base offense, and a lot of the principles that make it successful in college (discipline and superior athleticism) will not cut it in the NFL where every NFL defense has incredible speed and unlimited time to practice. In other words, it doesn't work in the NFL.

And that's where Urban Meyer appears to be realizing that he might run into some problems if he keeps the spread option as his base offense. The perception is now out there in the recruiting world that you aren't as marketable to the NFL if you play in the spread option offense in college. If you aren't learning the pro style offense, then you come into the league at a disadvantage and essentially have to learn an entirely new offense. Here's another article about the adjustments that high school players have to go through in a new offense. Once recruits start balking about your offense (even if it is a very productive offense), it's probably time to reevaluate things.

Is the new perception of the spread a fair one?? Tough to say. On the one hand, football is football, and things like athleticism and instincts and speed can pretty much translate to whatever offense you are running. On the other hand, the NFL is such a competitive league that you don't want to have to come into the league three steps behind everyone else. Coaches might get scared off by the spread option players because they don't know for sure that these guys can translate to an NFL offense. It's a bigger risk for an NFL GM/coach to draft a guy like that, and it's understandable why that might hurt their value.

A perfect example would be Alex Smith. That guy was a superstar at Utah, but I thought it was insanity to make him the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. A spread option guy?? I still can't believe that happened. He was a great fit in a college offense, but his game didn't translate at all to the pros. That might have been the dumbest draft pick in the last ten years. The Alex Smith debacle has probably scarred every NFL gm for life, and I don't think you'll be seeing a spread option QB going in the top 10 any time soon.

The recruiting angle is very interesting though. If you're a superstar pro style linemen or wide receiver or running back or quarterback, why would you go to a spread option offense?? You can easily play ball at Georgia or LSU or USC where they run a pro style offense that has put tons of offensive players into the pros. You don't have that same guarantee at a place like Florida. I know they've put plenty of players into the pros, but the Florida offense is not exactly a showcase for NFL type offenses. Urban Meyer wants linemen who can execute his offense, so he's going to teach them how to block in a spread and not the pro style. Wide receivers are going to run routes that are conducive to the spread option. Quick hitters and misdirections instead of the typical down the field stuff that you'd see in a pro offense. The Florida offense doesn't use tailbacks in a straight I formation where they pound the ball off tackle. If you're a stud back like Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells or Joe McKnight, why would you go to Florida and play in that offense??

I've always wondered when recruits would eventually catch on and get spooked by the spread option. If I was a Michigan fan, I'd be freaking out about this article. Urban Meyer appears to be getting ahead of the trend and going to a pro style offense while Rich Rodriguez is plowing right ahead with the spread option up at Michigan. What happens if recruits start avoiding Ann Arbor en masse because they're afraid that they won't succeed in the league by playing in Rich Rodriguez's offense??

Urban Meyer has obviously had a lot more success at Florida than Rich Rodriguez has had at Michigan thus far, so I don't think the recruiting well is suddenly going to dry up if he sticks with the spread option. Recruits want to play for winners no matter what offense they run, and there's no denying that Florida is the reigning king of college football these days. However, it doesn't take much to lose your status in the football world, so it's interesting to see that Urban Meyer is trying to adapt to stay ahead of the curve.

So where does Florida's offense go from here?? Will their offense be as effective?? I could see people making a big deal of this change, but I think Florida's offense will end up being just fine. I don't think the style of your offense is that big of a deal in college football. I think it comes down to execution. You can run a Wing T, and it will be successful if you execute well. Look at what Georgia Tech did last year. They ran the triple option and had an outstanding year. The key to Florida's offense is that they execute really well and find ways to get the ball to their playmakers. If they adapt to more of a pro style offense, their success will come down to whether or not they can execute it.

Judging by the way Urban Meyer runs his teams, I would guess that they're offense will remain potent. If you watch his teams play, the key to their success is not their scheme. It's that they run everything with precision and discipline. You could say the same about Lou Holtz's teams. We ran a basic option offense at ND under Holtz, but he made it work because we were the most physical and disciplined team in the country. I've heard stories that we would often run the same play over and over, and nobody could stop it.

I wonder how this move will affect Tim Tebow. As great as he has been in college football, it's kind of his make or break year to prove if he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. You have to think that part of the reason Urban Meyer is remaking the offense is to give Tebow a showcase for the NFL scouts. How is he going to perform in a pro style offense?? Can he be a drop back passer?? It would definitely be good for his stock if he runs it well, but what if he struggles?? Is Tebow fully on board with this change?? I know Tebow wants to become an NFL quarterback, but he also wants to win another championship. Interesting dynamic there.

From an ND angle, I also think this move is interesting if he ever gets on the radar for the ND head coaching position. Whether it's next year or ten years down the road, I do think that Urban Meyer will someday be the head coach at Notre Dame. With the pro style personnel that we tend to attract (Qbs, tight ends, big linemen), we sort of need a coach who can tailor his offense around the typical ND type recruits. The spread option is not going to work for a big armed pro style QB like Clausen or Crist or Hendrix. If Meyer can effectively teach a pro style offense with a quarterback under center, he might feel more confident about going to ND someday.

One of the things that I've heard through the years from ND fans is that they are leery of Urban Meyer's offense and think of it as "gimmicky." I actually agree with that sentiment to some degree even though I think Meyer is a fabulous coach. You don't want to be a one trick pony in the coaching world. If that spread goes out of style or recruits start balking about it, suddenly you've got nothing and your momentum dries up. I think it's a good sign that Meyer has already recognized some of the potential problems that might come down the road if he continues to focus on the spread. It's better to adapt now than to wait until it's too late.

Anyway, should be something to keep an eye on. I don't anticipate a full-fledged switch to the pro style in Tebow's senior year, but I think they'll show some of that at times (probably in the less important games). Scott Loeffler is a pro style quarterbacks coach who has already brought a new offensive philosophy to Gainesville. With this John Brantley guy in the fold for next year as more of a pro style guy, we might see a whole new brand of offense at Florida in 2010.


Anonymous said...

Agree completely with your assessment. We have a public high school in town that runs a double wing offense. Takes a lot of discipline and good faking to run. Teams that haven't seen it before get easily beaten by it, but those who've seen it for a few years now know what to expect. As to the high school players who play in the offense...great stats but not much interest from D1 programs.

Anonymous said...

It's Urban Meyer's new offensive coordinator who is choosing to go to a more pro-like offense, not UM himself. And it probably has to do more with this guy's foolishness rather than a fear of losing recruits. Coaches who run the spread option and other similar offenses will always get good athletes and there will be plenty of QBs like Alex Smith, Eric Crouch, Pat White, and Tim Tebow who won't be good NFL QBs but who will do good in these college offenses.