I like reading College Football News.com. I appreciate the job those guys do – how easy can it be to come up with something to write about on college football during the first week of June? – even more now that I’m trying my hand at blogging.
That being said, I think that Zemek’s Monday Morning Quarterback piece today, in which he argues that “(a)nother major development in the coaching world this season came from … Urban Meyer, who used two quarterbacks in a way that generally worked…” comes from someone who’s letting his admiration for Meyer get in the way of analyzing what really happened.
First off, let me say that Meyer, who’s taken his team to the BCS title game in his second season, is certainly deserving of praise, but not because of his offense. The Gators became the first team in SEC history to make it to the SECCG without scoring 30 or more points in a single conference game. Florida is where it is because of defense, special teams and Meyer’s whining/politicking (he’s good at that, by the way).
Not because of the offense. And certainly not because of the quarterback rotation. Zemek seems to know this on one hand, but on the other, he just wants to gush about it accomplishing something:
The whole point of the Chris Leak-Tim Tebow rotation system was to create certain tendencies, only to then break them, while also having the added benefit of being able to coach the other quarterback when on the sideline. By giving Leak and Tebow specific packages and assignments, Meyer and Mullen gave defenses two sets of expectations early in games whenever Leak or Tebow would step onto the field. Later in games, Meyer and Mullen could break tendencies with these quarterbacks. When Leak would unexpectedly run or Tebow would unexpectedly pass (Tebow’s jump-pass against LSU was a trend-busting, horizon-expanding goal-line play call from the 2006 season), defenses would suddenly become uncertain… at least, that was the goal for the Florida braintrust. On a few occasions, this approach did enough to produce crucial touchdowns in Gator victories. Yes, it never consistently gelled for sixty whole minutes on any single Saturday, but it managed to score enough points to get the job done. Coming one year after a disastrous season for Florida’s offense–in which Leak looked downright lost at times–this was a considerable achievement for Meyer and Mullen.
Scoring enough points to “get the job done” is a “considerable achievement”? Talk about setting the bar high. Boy, that Tebow jump pass was something, wasn’t it? How come Zemek doesn’t mention how dysfunctional that rotation looked in the second half of the Georgia game, where the coaches kept inserting Leak in on third and longs repeatedly because Tebow couldn’t move the offense on first or second down?
But then we get to the big point:
Going beyond this one season, though, here is the larger significance of Meyer’s plan, implemented on game days by Mullen: while prevailing conventional wisdom has long held that a quarterback shuffle is a bad thing, it’s this columnist’s belief that the future of offensive play calling lies in these planned QB rotations. It was none other than that great trail blazer, Steve Spurrier, who first introduced this idea to the college football consciousness nine years ago.
Say what? Well, Zemek’s glad you asked:
With strong-armed but weak-minded sophomore quarterback Doug Johnson struggling at the end of a trying season, Spurrier rotated Johnson with senior signal caller Noah Brindise against a powerful Florida State team that entered the Swamp as a considerable favorite intent on reaching the Bowl Alliance championship game against Nebraska. By being able to coach Johnson on the sideline when Brindise was on the field, and by giving a steady senior some of the game reps while reducing the workload of the shaky sophomore, Spurrier found more continuity and productivity on offense than he ever could have hoped for. A brutal month of bad offense from mid-October to mid-November suddenly ceased to matter, as Florida’s new-look offense came up with big plays throughout the course of a 32-point effort that knocked the Seminoles out of the title tilt… In NCAA ball, the limited attention spans and frail psyches of quarterbacks (not to mention any other players on a team) are conducive to fewer reps and more detailed coaching. Planned in-game quarterback rotations lead to better coaching and an accordingly enhanced ability of quarterbacks to execute specific plays in specific situations.
Allow me to retort: no way, pal. Spurrier used his quarterbacks all through 1997 like Kleenex – once one wasn’t getting the job done anymore, it was on to the next one in the box. There was nothing new about his approach to the FSU game.
As I read this, I kept thinking of that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen is stuck in a movie line behind some guy who’s opinions are getting on Allen’s nerves. You know the moment:
MAN: … I happen to teach a class at Columbia called TV, Media and Culture, so I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity.
WOODY ALLEN: Oh, do you?
WOODY ALLEN: Oh, that’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. Come over here for a second?
WOODY ALLEN: Tell him.
MARSHALL McLUHAN: — I heard, I heard what you were saying. You, you know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.
If what Zemek says about Spurrier is accurate, then this season would have been the perfect opportunity for the Evil Genius to put that into play. He had two QBs this year with disparate styles and abilities that started in Newton and Mitchell, yet he never did what Zemek says he pioneered. Mitchell played until Spurrier lost confidence in him. Then Newton played until Spurrier lost confidence in him. Then Mitchell played until… well, you get the idea. (Newton finished the year as a safety.)
The funny thing is that Zemek goes on to list a bunch of teams that could have benefitted from play-to-play/series-to-series rotation (including Georgia!), but doesn’t mention South Carolina. Hmm…
Far from being an idea whose time has come, this frequent rotation of QBs thing struck me as nothing more than a means of placating a heralded freshman quarterback and dealing with the reality that the accomplished senior quarterback really wasn’t a good fit for Meyer’s offensive philosophy. But, hey, if Florida runs a QB rotation with Tebow and someone else next year, I’ll certainly give Zemek credit.