Do you have to run the ball to win in the SEC?

Allen Kinney shares some thoughts about Barrett Sallee’s post on Texas A&M’s spread offense which I had previously criticized here.  After reading what Allen posted, I’m wondering if some of this debate is fueled by differences over semantics – not exactly a surprise when you talk about the spread.

For example, I think Allen has it right when he says,

There are so many versions of the “spread” as it relates to offensive schemes that the term itself doesn’t have much utility now. The offenses run by Urban Meyer and Mike Leach really have little in common. In reality, teams are mixing and matching so many offensive concepts today that trying to fit any scheme into catch-all buckets is generally pointless.

But then he falls into the same rationale that Sallee cited originally, and, as I posted before, it’s not convincing.

… Sallee is absolutely correct that teams running spread offenses along the lines of the Air Raid generally haven’t been found near the top of the SEC standings. But how many have really tried? Sallee points out two notable pass-happy flame-outs: Dave Clawson’s offense at Tennessee in 2008 and Tony Franklin’s half-season at Auburn.

The idea that Clawson’s offense in his one-year disaster at UT was pass-happy comes as a surprise to me.  The Vols ran the ball 100 times more than they threw it in ’08; the 2007 offense threw the ball more than it ran.  As for Franklin, it was clear from the get-go that Tuberville was never committed to running the spread offense the way Franklin envisioned.  (Neither were Franklin’s fellow assistant coaches.)

As for pass-happy offenses succeeding in the SEC, the nineties saw two pass-oriented systems work and work well:  Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun and Mumme’s Air Raid.  Now that’s not to say that the two programs saw equal success in terms of wins and losses, just that both were effective in moving the ball and scoring points.

And that may be where the discussion breaks down here.  Sallee seemed to be making the argument that Kingsbury’s offense can’t work as it is in the SEC.  That’s a different argument than saying TAMU won’t win in the SEC this season if it runs some version of the Air Raid attack.

There’s no question that the SEC is a defense-oriented conference.  It’s also a conference loaded with talent, as Allen points out.

… The chances that Kingsbury and Sumlin’s offense will continue to put up the same Nintendo-like numbers they’ve become accustomed to are slimmer than the prospects of finding a vegan restaurant in Tuscaloosa. The overall level of talent in the SEC is simply better, and Big 12 immigrants A&M and Missouri, another pass spread team, will find themselves even lower in the talent stack than they were in their previous home.

The odds of success in the SEC drop dramatically if you can’t stop the other guy fairly consistently (unless you’re blessed with a transcendent talent like Cam was).  Any offensive system can only take you so far, even if it’s one a coaching staff is committed to and even if it’s one run with proficiency.  And that’s how TAMU should be judged this season, although I suspect that Allen’s correct when he says that if things don’t go well, it’ll be the system that takes the brunt of the blame.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Do you have to run the ball to win in the SEC?

  1. Mike

    Spurrier often opined that there are advantages and disadvantages for any offensive system. He said most HCs had success by picking one and sticking to it.

    • Spurrier’s offense was also at it’s best when it had balance from Fred Taylor, Errict Rhett, or Earnest Graham forcing teams to respect their running ability, opening up passing lanes.

      • Mike

        If you charted the Mighty Gators during the Spurrier era, you would notice that most of the “balance” of a Spurrier offense occured only after the Gators got a good lead. In the first half, Steve would put a lot of points on the board via the pass, and then run a lot in the second half to close the game out..

  2. SouthGa Dawg

    I’m up for some spread O in the SEC. This will make for some better 12:30 games. Would you rather watch A&M vs whoever or UK vs Ole Miss (yawn)?

  3. Talent will always trump scheme. The question is, how does Sumlin adjust what he did at Houston to the talent he has in College Station, and then acquire the players to do what he wants (and does he remember to keep a focus on defense as well).

    • Billy, in my gut, I agree with you. But have you looked at Kentucky’s 1999 offensive roster? It wasn’t exactly a collection of allstars.

      • I get what you’re saying, but remember that A) that team only went 6-6 in a pretty down year for the league and B) the best talent they faced still held them down pretty well — 10 points versus Florida, 21 versus Tennessee, 22 versus Mississippi State (easy to forget that was back in their better times under Sherrill) and 13 in their bowl game against Syracuse.

    • Saint Johns Dawg

      Perhaps … but them I’m reminded of Jim Donnan’s starting 22 players on the 1999-2000 UGA teams.

  4. Cojones

    The Big 12 used to respect D long ago, to wit, Tommy Nobis, the franchise player for the Falcon’s first years. Still think they respect it and that A&M may get that part of their game on.

    Let’em call their spread by their name; i.e., The A&M 12th man Spread. I’m for a generic name such that we wean away from calling every new offense, a spread. My suggestion: Mo’ O. TaDaa!

  5. Cojones

    Tommy Tuberville told Richt that running the ball was the name of the game in the SEC. So Richt went out and got some good running backs and kicked his ass.