Evolution at the school of Tebow

Interesting proposition from Michael Elkon:

Alexander’s line about forcing change where no natural pressure exists had me thinking about college football.  I remember having a conversation with a friend three years ago about how USC, Texas, and Florida were poised to dominate college football in the coming years.  They had the coaches, the systems, the fertile recruiting bases, and the rivals in turmoil to ensure a series of meetings with crystal balls on the line.  Leaving USC and their NCAA issues aside, as recently as two years ago, Texas and Florida were both coming off of years where they lost only one game: to national champion Alabama.  In the summer of 2010, we read numerous writers opine that both the Horns and Gators were moving away from the spread styles (pass-based for Texas and run-based for Florida) that they had favored in favor of more conventional, power-based attacks.  (I remember Tony Barnhart being especially pronounced in making this point, but I cannot for the life of me find a link to verify my memory.)

The results of this forced evolution (maybe devolution is a better term) have been disastrous.  Here is Florida’s national rank in yards per play from 2008 forward: 3, 2, 78, 67.  And here is Texas’s: 13, 57, 78, 67.  Both Florida and Texas had a style that worked for them and then have gone away from that style, whether by recruiting decisions or scheme.  They had evolved into approaches that moved the ball and then chose to eschew those approaches for something new.  Two years later, they are both picking up the pieces from those decisions to force change.

Here are a few things I wonder about in response:

  1. How much of this evolution is forced by decision and how much by scheme change?  Note that Florida’s decline starts in Corch’s last season – you know, the one when Tim Tebow had already moved on to fame and fortune in the NFL.  (Also note that Florida’s national ranking in ypp actually improved under Weis this season.)
  2. How much did Jeremy Foley buy into Meyer’s recruiting?  After seeing the post-Tebow decline begin, Florida’s AD elected to jump in with both feet and hire a guy who was intent upon changing to an offensive scheme for which Florida was presumably lacking the right kind of personnel.
  3. One of the few things I’ve agreed with Heisman Pundit about is the success of contrarian offensive scheming.  If most of the defenses you see are structured to stop spread attacks, is there not some value in running a pro-style power game?  It sure seems to have worked for the top two teams in the conference this season.  Plus, a pro-style scheme works particularly well for programs which are ultra-successful at recruiting (see, again, Alabama and LSU), which is something that Florida certainly can claim to be.
  4. Given that, how much time do you allow the evolution process to work out before declaring success or failure?  (If you’re a Georgia fan, you’re probably shrieking “Two years!” about now.)
  5. I’d like to hear Michael’s explanation for where Michigan fits into his theory.
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37 Comments

Filed under College Football, Strategery And Mechanics

37 responses to “Evolution at the school of Tebow

  1. I think it boils down to personnel issues. Auburn, Florida, and Texas all reached the pinnacle running the spread with Cam Newton, Tebow, and Vince Young, respectively. Their successors were not a good fit for the system. If you remember Colt’s first year, he was nearly beat to death by the end. They had to change from a run-first program under VY to a pass-oriented team so he wouldn’t die in the backfield. Since, they have changed again to fit different personnel.

    The real question is why can these teams not identify and recruit personnel that fits their scheme? Are they opting for star rankings and hoping they can mold them into a productive player in their scheme? I want to say that the multi-dimensional, fullback-playing-quarterback players only come around every so often, but I know there are several very successful ones playing right now. Collin Klein at KSU comes to mind. Tyler Tettleton at Ohio is another. Why would a school like Florida go after John Brantley, a pocket passer with no running skills, instead of a less-heralded player that does exactly what their offense requires from the QB?

    • Tronan

      I’ve read anecdotes that UF recruiting during Meyer’s last couple of years in Gainesville emphasized star rankings rather than who might actually fit the program and school best. Based on what’s transpired with those classes over the last couple of years, those anecdotes appear to be based in fact. I’ve read similar stories about the same thing happening at FSU during Bowden’s last decade there (notably between 2000-2006, before the program couldn’t actually attract 5-star recruits anymore). Those stories also seem entirely believable.

      While Meyer’s and Bowden’s personal circumstances differed greatly, their heads appeared to be elsewhere at the end of their respective reigns in the state of Florida. That (and a mutual, slobbering love of Tim Tebow) appears to be the common thread between them.

      • Dog in Fla

        “I’ve read anecdotes that UF recruiting during Meyer’s last couple of years in Gainesville emphasized star rankings rather than who might actually fit the program and school”

        That anecdotal stuff shows just how good the UF Athletic Department is at disinformation.

  2. Zdawg

    Lets not leave defense out of this conversation. They are interrelated. You think we would be talking about these powerhouse offenses if they didn’t have championship defenses? Without D all you are left with is 08 Hawaii.

    Trey is right about personell issues. My only guess is that evaluating high school athletes is a hit or miss proposition at best. If the pros struggle to draft the best after watching them play 3-4 years of college football, then imagine how tough it is watching grainy file of high school games against questionable opponents. Hell, I still think that rb kid that went to play for West Virginia was the next LaDainian Thompson after watching those clips of him in high school.

    • I agree about the hit or miss, but this is something completely different. I doubt Florida believed Brantley could run Meyer’s system like Tebow. If they did, then they are idiots. It’s one thing when you recruit a guy that fits your system but doesn’t pan out. That’s just the breaks of the recruiting trail. These guys are recruiting players that don’t fit their systems, and trying to fit square pegs in round holes. And, at Florida and Texas, when both have their pick of talent-rich states, this seems incomprehensible.

      • Zdawg

        Why did they recruit Brantley at all? A placeholder until Cam Newton was ready to play?

        But to your point, Meyer was still trying to recruit square pegs–Like Murray and power running backs. Makes you wonder how flexible his system was.

        As for teams who ‘have their pick’ of talent, I don’t think its that incomprehensible. I mean, look at Miami under Coker. And you know Texas had got to miss on a number of evaluations there too. Perhaps it takes quite a deal of talent to find proper talent. Maybe we are overlooking that?

  3. Irishdawg

    ZDawg is on target here. Florida won when Charlie Strong ran their defense and it was loaded with NFL quality talent. That defense (and special teams to a lesser degree) frequently got turnovers and/or short fields and Tebow could dink pass/run them into the endzone. 2009 Texas had an explosive offense, but a solid D as well.

    Off topic, sorta, but anyone else here sick of the all Tebow all the time NFL coverage going on right now? Jesus, we’re never going to stop hearing about that guy.

    • Cojones

      The point about D being integrated into the success of the spread QBs still holds true in Denver where the low points allowed by their D is responsible for Tebow’s low #s to win.

  4. charlottedawg

    Slightly off topic but this is why i think recruiting class rankings are way oversimplified, and i don’t mean in the “Thomas Davis was a 2 star!!!” way. Getting talent matters but it starts with coaches properly evaluating said talent and matching it up with scheme / needs. Case in point last year: jay rome counted more towards our rivals class ranking than john jenkins did. however, jenkins made a hell of a lot more of a difference this year than rome did, which is not a knock on rome.

    • Cojones

      I get your point, but that’s not a fair comparison since Rome was redshirted. Perhaps a better comparison would be that Texas is always #1 during most of the recruiting year having signed all the “stars” in Texas, but that hasn’t helped on the field. Same with FU. This also points out the flaws in rating players. Some are rated high without there being a vetting of previous ratings while others end in disagreement whether a player is 4 or 5-star. The star numbers still count in averaging team rankings, but the difference in judgements is frought with subjectivity. The rating services attempt to blur that flaw by rating according to need and what the player helps in the overall team mission for recruits for that particular year. A good case in point involves the late recruiting of Mason, a 3-star, after we had a higher star-rated player in LeMay, but Mason , after good Bobo coaching, is nowhere near a 3-star player. The point here is that the rating system fails to view the athletic potential of many players while it is used to artificially rank teams according to athletic power.

      As a proponent of downgrading the importance of star systems, I fail the acid test of not bragging on our team according to the star ranking. “What the hell, I’m a Dawg fan” is my only excuse.

  5. 4.0 Point Stance

    Michigan is a bad counterexample because their improvement came on defense. It’s not like it was the spread offense that was holding them back.

  6. Derek

    People need to understand that there is no good reason to run anything much different than Uga, LSU, Alabama, etc… What I mean is a balanced, pro-style offense IF you recruit well. HS players want to learn a pro system. Now if you are Texas tech or Georgia tech or wash. St. you know you aren’t getting the players so you do something different that people have a hard time prepping for in a week.

    What people need to realize is that spread ONLY works if you have an amazing qb. If Tim tebow signs with Alabama Meyer would have been out of coaching involuntarily. I’m not saying he can’t coach. He’s one of the best game day coaches I’ve seen but his offense is too dependent on one position to succeed. (I know some one is going to poor out that Meyer won with leak, but urban left the spread with leak after Joe kines’ defense nearly killed chris. What’s more is that Urbana best teams were good because of the other side of the ball in large measure. The year that tebow wins the heisman was one if the greatest statistical seasons of all time but tebow lost 4 games that year). Those who want a leach or a Mullen or a malzahn are really not thinking this through given the rich recruiting base we have.

    • That last sentence was right pn.

    • This is totally wrong, unless you think that the following players are all “amazing QBs”:

      Alex Smith
      Josh Harris
      Pat White
      Woody Dantzler
      Dennis Dixon
      Jeremiah Masoli
      Darron Thomas
      Juice Williams

      Four of the last six national titles have been won by teams running versions of the run-based spread (and ’07 LSU had elements of it). You are engaged in a serious case of willful blindness to think that the offense doesn’t work in college or that major programs can’t make use of it. The basic principles – spread the defense out, option off at least one defender so the OL can double certain player, and use the QB in the running game to outnumber the defense – work for big programs and smaller ones.

      • Cojones

        I think a point before your comment was comparing the appeal of the pro style to recruits who want to go on to the NFL where that is the system employed. If the spread was utilized extensively in the NFL (and who is to say it won’t be) then your point could be well taken. It just isn’t the system flavor at this time and the kids go where they have the best chance. Why else would we get the “Dream Team” after a 6-7 season? Looks like the kids were right.

        • I think Michael was responding to this comment: “What people need to realize is that spread ONLY works if you have an amazing qb.”

          And Michael’s right.

          • Chadwick

            Right, the spread is used to de-emphasize the need to have NFL level players. It doesn’t mean that having them doesn’t increase the effectiveness of your offensive attack. Of course it helped UF to have Harvin instead of Chris Doering in Meyer’s offense. That the jimmy and joe factor. However, that offense is built as a way to take advantage of numerical and coverage inefficiencies the defense presents, no matter how many stars your players have. See Michigan/App State to for proof in the pudding. I slightly discount the UGA/WVU due to the short field the ‘dogs presented them, but they still scored .

          • Derek

            I suppose that “amazing” and “works” could use some definition but I think uf’s troubles last year and Auburn’s this year show that you aren’t always in a position to just plug a guy in and compete for championships, at least not in this league. LSU and Alabama are succeeding with less at qb than anyone on that list.

            • Derek

              In the interest of full disclosure I should note that I think anyone who calls for an shotgun formation and empty backfield on 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line should be summarily executed and that if my beloved team ever adopted that sort of an abomination as an offense I would only watch defense and special teams.

    • Dog in Fla

      “If Tim tebow signs with Alabama” Mike Shula would still be coaching there.

  7. 69Dawg

    The knock on the spread teams are that the O screws up the D because the D practices against a spread all the time and when it comes up against a real O with big backs and such the D can’t make a stop. This was Rich Rod’s problem, heck his O was great but his D could not stop anybody. Urban for all his ego knew he had to have a great D to win and he had it until Charley got the HC gig. Look what LSU did to the best spread out there Oregon, they beat them to death literally. We on the other hand let our OC call a game that played right into the hands of BSU.

    • That wasn’t a problem for Florida defense in ’06 and ’08.

    • The offensive style was not RichRod’s problem at Michigan. His last two defenses at WVU were quite good. His defensive problems at Michigan were, in no particular order:

      1. A lack of talent left over by his predecessor, especially in the defensive backfield.

      2. Significant player attrition, especially in the defensive backfield.

      3. Poor player development, especially in the defensive backfield.

      4. A mismatch between his coordinators and position coaches.

      5. The atrocious decision to hire Greg Robinson, which was possibly caused by Michigan being too cheap.

      Michigan’s defense got much better this year, despite the fact that the coaches figured out by the end of September that imitating the Rodriguez offense was the way to go. The defense got better because it had better, more cohesive coaching (that showed up in both scheme and technique) and because the talent on-hand matured. Rodriguez deserves a little credit for recruiting some guys who turned out to be quality starters. Jake Ryan and Thomas Gordon were both productive underclassmen who were not ballyhooed recruits, but who were productive this year. Additionally, Michigan had two walk-on starters who were no worse than average (Jordan Kovacs is above-average as an in-the-box safety) and RR deserves credit for committing to a significant walk-on program.

    • WF dawg

      “they beat them to death literally.”
      We were fortunate only to lose 42-10.

    • Biggus Rickus

      I don’t think you know what ‘literally’ means.

  8. Hobnail_Boot

    Devil’s Advocate:

    Georgia has a QB committed for the ’13 class who plays for a HS that never throws the ball.

  9. 4th & Short

    Richt’s offensive philosophy is balance. Richt’s ideal is:
    6 receivers getting equal touches
    3 ruunning backs getting equal touches
    throwing to open guy, even is he’s the 4th option on a route

    Flaws:
    a) This means less reps for your A players, in the LSU game, the receivers looked clueless on the patterns and seem caught off gaurd when the passes came their way. Due to insufficient reps.
    b) Receivers don’t know when the ball is coming to them, most don’t expect it when they’re the 3rd or 4th option.
    c) Running backs look clueless on passblocking and even running plays, due to insufficient reps
    d) Assumes the QB will be accurate and have excellent ball protection on passes (hard to find Kellen Moore’s and Griffin’s)

    SEC has evolved to teams that are winning the conference by running the ball far more than they pass, especially in big games. Richt hasn’t adapted to the fundamental change, and one wonders if he ever will. Seems arrogant in his commitment to lead the conference in passing in big games like he did in 2011.

    • Biggus Rickus

      a) Awesome. Good use of a one-game sample size.
      b) What? Are you going back to the one game against the second best defense in the country again?
      c) Carlton Thomas looked awesome picking up blitzes most of the time. Crowell, a true freshman, was spotty. When did they look “clueless” on running plays? What does that even mean?
      d) After the first few games Murray did have excellent ball protection. As for accuracy, the Georgia offense does not expect 65 – 70% accuracy. There are too many medium to deep passes involved in the scheme.

      Teams are winning the conference a variety of ways offensively. Florida and Auburn won with a run-first spread. Alabama won with a pro-style offense not dissimilar to Georgia’s, though with different levels of talent at different positions. LSU won with an old school power running game and great special teams. An offense like Georgia’s could easily win the conference again as early as next year if the offensive line gels, and there’s more than one talented running back on the roster. Preferably one with some size to give defenses a different style to deal with.

    • Derek

      I don’t think richt has ever shied from wanting to run the ball. He also hasn’t shied from feeding one guy when thats what we had. Musa Haynes and Moreno all have been workhorses at times. Sometimes I think that critics believe we have a completely different roster than what we have.