Spread ’em.

So, it’s out with the old and in with the new at Auburn, at least with regard to offensive coordinators. Out is the genius of 2004, Al Borges, whose prowess with West Coast football and play action has been on the decline since kids like Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown set sail for fairer ports. In is former Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin who runs the current flavor of the month in college football. Dread the spread, baby!

HeismanPundit is impressed.

The transformation continues. By my count:

SEC schools using standard I-formation, pro-style offenses, 2004

Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina

SEC schools using elements of the spread, or a college-style passing offense, 2008

Auburn, LSU, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss

If anyone has corrections here, please comment. Point being, there has been a remarkable transformation in the SEC on the offensive side of the ball since 2004.

For Tommy Tuberville, the spread is sort of all things to all men.

“We’re going to have a lot of backs in the game. I think the backs are going to like it because we’re going to throw the ball to them more. You’re going to play running backs like Brad Lester at wide receiver. Mario Fannin will play the slot.”

Tuberville said the spread will help recruit wide receivers.

“We were having a little bit of problem recruiting receivers because we were only using two a game and not six or seven or eight a game like some of these teams. This will allow us to broaden our recruiting base.”

Many people see the spread as being a finesse offense, but not Mr. “You’ve got to run the ball in the SEC”:

The biggest difference, Tuberville said of Franklin, “is he’s going to set up the run by passing the ball. We’ve set up the pass by running the ball. I don’t doubt it’s going to work, but we’re still going to be a physical team. We’re going to run the ball more than we’re going to throw it.

Auburn will remain a physical offensive team.

“I’m a defensive coach and I know you have to be physical in practice to help your defense,” Tuberville said. “You can’t get better in games on defense. You have to practice hard and practice physical. We’ll have a lot of two-back in our offense next year.”

Clemson’s Tommy Bowden is skeptical that Tuberville will get everything he wants out of the spread.

But, warned Bowden, there could be a downside. He once ran the spread offense, but dumped it.

“Where we got hurt was running backs. I couldn’t recruit a running back with what I was doing,” Bowden said. “So if you marry it too much, you’re going to hurt yourself. . .but you’re going to attract the wideouts. But, as Tommy said, he still believes you’ve got to run the football. You’ve got to be able to run it, and that’s where I got away from the running back.”

I was curious about Tuberville’s assurance that his team would remain physical on offense. There are certainly plenty of spread offenses that are prolific scorers, but how tough are they?

One way I believe you can measure this is by looking at red zone conversion stats. Once you get inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, there’s less space to spread a defense out and the need to have a power element in the offense becomes greater. By that rationale, you’d think that teams that run the spread are generally less successful in the red zone than teams that don’t.

The first problem is defining the terminology. If I define spread attacks as those which employ a running quarterback at least five times a game, here’s how that would break down in the SEC in 2007:

“Pro-style” SEC offenses (less than 60 QB rushing attempts)

  • Tennessee
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina**
  • Mississippi State
  • Arkansas*

*Arky obviously presents a special case, because of the Wild Hog formation. Arkansas’ true QBs only ran the ball 12 times this season. McFadden obviously averaged more than five direct snaps a game.

**South Carolina doesn’t utilize a spread option attack, but it does use four and five WR packages and HP (correctly, in my opinion) sees it as a non-traditional offense.

“Spread elements” SEC offenses (more than 60 QB rushing attempts)

  • Vanderbilt
  • Mississippi
  • LSU
  • Kentucky
  • Florida
  • Auburn
  • Alabama

HP is wrong with his characterization of Vandy’s offense. Commodore QBs rushed the ball 145 times this season, second most in the SEC. And before you raise your eyebrows about Auburn being on this list, don’t forget that the Tigers ran the ball with Kodi Burns frequently this season.

I’d say based on the above that only three teams operated out of primarily pro style offense sets in the conference in 2007: Tennessee (19 QB rushing attempts), Georgia (37 QB rushing attempts) and Mississippi State (58 QB rushing attempts).

And courtesy of cfbstats.com, where you can find virtually any college football statistic under the sun, here’s how the SEC teams rank nationally in terms of red zone conversions against conference opponents (pro style offenses are in bold):

  • Georgia #2
  • LSU #6
  • Tennessee #13
  • Mississippi State #15
  • Arkansas #21
  • Alabama #53
  • Florida #65
  • South Carolina #65
  • Auburn #70
  • Kentucky #80
  • Vanderbilt #110
  • Mississippi #117

Keep in mind as you look at that list that Florida was #4 nationally in scoring offense and Mississippi State was #93.

As you see, three of the top four teams run pro-style offenses.

No, I can’t say it’s a hard and fast rule – not with LSU once again proving that it has enough talent to look good in any statistical ranking – but those stats are a pretty good indicator that Bowden’s experience is probably something that Tuberville should heed.



Filed under SEC Football, Stats Geek!, Tony Franklin - Misunderstood Genius

6 responses to “Spread ’em.

  1. kckd

    Man, that’s a good read.

    I know that Tebow is a physical runner, but when Tuberville made that statement about needing a physical offense for your defense, I couldn’t help but think about how soft UF’s defense looked.

    Last year they ran out of more traditional sets than this year. yeah, I know there is a big difference in playing time from the 2006 to the 2007 defense, but still wondering if there might be something to that.


  2. KG

    Scoring percentage in the red zone against conference opponents??? Huh? Is that supposed to translate to anything in real life? Va Tech is the third most efficient scoring Red Zone offense in the country based on that (behind Georgia and Michigan State). Ouch!!! What a powerful and deadly efficient offensive juggernaut they have there in Blacksburg this year. They may only score 13 points a game but they are DAMN EFFICIENT in scoring those 13 points!!!

    I guess the point to be made here is that you can be less efficient if you are in the red zone more often. Georgia has a much better percentage than Kentucky, Florida or LSU but doesn’t get into the red zone nearly as often. That’s sort of like saying how a team dominates time of possession because the other team scores so fast against them! It’s not an important statistic when put in perspective.

    The spread offense that wouldn’t work in the SEC seems to be turning into the most popular offense in the conference and the country. And whether you prefer a run dominated approach (WVU) or a pass dominated approach (Kentucky) it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Just match it up to your personnel.

    When even a conservative coach like Tuberville realizes the trend . . . that says it all. I never thought he’d go spread. Maybe he’s not as stubborn and overrated as I thought.


  3. kckd

    UF’s offense is designed to run up the score against the weaker opponent.

    In three games against ranked opponents UGA scored 9 TDs in 10 redzone attempts. In four games UF scored 11 tds in 18 attempts.

    And that ain’t good enough when your defense can’t stop the opposition from getting in when they are down there.



  4. KG – you’ve missed my point.

    I wasn’t criticizing the spread. I was questioning TT’s statement that his offense would remain physical while running the spread. I’m not certain you can do both.

    And the last thing I’d call Tuberville with regard to his coordinators is stubborn. Franklin is like his fifth or sixth OC since he’s been at Auburn.


  5. The spread offense that wouldn’t work in the SEC seems to be turning into the most popular offense in the conference and the country. And whether you prefer a run dominated approach (WVU) or a pass dominated approach (Kentucky) it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Just match it up to your personnel.

    Excellent article on the spread here.


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