Now this is nothing if not weird. Yesterday I was pondering a post about Junior – yeah, I know, that’s not weird for GTP – but one that would be stripped of any references to his last two months’ worth of antics or snarky comments about his body of work with the Ray-dahs. In other words, I wanted to see what kind of substance there was to Kiffin’s days at USC when he ran the Trojan offense and to determine what sort of scheme he might be bringing to Knoxville. I even mosied over to the invaluable Trojan Football Analysis site to see what I could dig up there.
So imagine my surprise and pleasure when I came across this post by Chris at Smart Football, who started with the same interest I had, but would up doing a far better job of putting the picture together than I ever could. God bless the Internets. I say that he does a better job because he also takes the time to incorporate what Jim Chaney, UT’s offensive coordinator, did in the same role at Purdue. The whole thing is insightful and well worth your time.
Here’s Chris’ early upshot as to what he thinks we’ll see on the field from Tennessee.
… don’t expect an Urban Meyer or Rich Rodriguez style spread offense, but neither should you expect the old West Coast Offense either. The formations will likely be basic one-back ones, though with a mixture of four- and five-wide, but with the ability to “get big” with tight-ends and fullbacks when the situation allows. In other words, they will be multiple.
Okay, that’s fine, but will it work? That’s where things get a bit dicier, at least from a predictive standpoint. Chris is inclined to give Kiffin and Cheney the benefit of the doubt – two guys who succeeded at the college level, at least – when he writes
… other than his stint in Oakland (where offense goes to die, just ask Randy Moss) Kiffin sports some some fairly impressive offensive credentials, i.e. his years at Southern Cal first under Norm Chow and later as co-offensive coordinator with Steve Sarkisian. To aid him in bringing potency to the offense is the Vols’ new OC, Jim Chaney, who is best known as the offensive whiz who brought basketball-on-grass to Purdue (along with Joe Tiller and Drew Brees). Chaney is most recently of the St. Louis Rams with Scott Linehan, but, much like Kiffin’s time in Oakland, the less said about that the better.
On the other hand, HeismanPundit has a much lower opinion of Kiffin’s abilities as a coordinator.
… he will bring a complicated pro-style offense to Tennessee that the players will struggle to learn. He hangs his hat on his work with the 2005 USC offense, but that offense was built by Norm Chow and comprised of players who were already developed. A close look at that season reveals a lot of unnecessary struggles and some questionable calls, including the decision to keep Reggie Bush on the bench for the crucial 4th and 2 against Texas. And ultimately, that team could not win a title despite having maybe the greatest offensive talent ever. The 2006 USC offense was inconsistent and anemic despite being loaded with talent.
I thought I’d take a look at some the numbers the Southern Cal offense generated from 2004 (the last year that Chow was the offensive coordinator) through 2006 (the two years that Kiffin ran the offense) to see if any patterns emerged that might shed some light on Kiffin’s ability. I looked at points per game, total yardage and yards per play, the numbers as well as the national ranking for each, and here’s what I came up with.
Those 2005 numbers are pretty hellacious, aren’t they? But that drop off in 2006 is noticeable, as well. My feeling is that’s what happens when your starting backfield, including two Heisman Trophy winners, depart. (I’ve seen some mention of the fact that a large part of the blame for the decline in ’06 was due to the injuries that were racked up at the fullback position, but in light of Chris’ comments about the reliance on a lot of one back sets in Kiffin’s formations, I tend to discount that a good bit.) Nobody looks as smart when the talent level drops.
It’s probably not fair, but HP’s comment about the disjointed nature of the playcalling in the MNC game against Texas brings to mind an unfortunate comparison to the surgical precision Chow brought to the title game the year before – with that same backfield that ran up those great numbers under Kiffin.
All of which indicates to me that his is a system that’s talent-dependent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Kiffin’s certainly brought in the horses to go out and get skilled players. But Knoxville this year ain’t the Los Angeles of 2005; the Vols are woefully short at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver at present. Nor is that the kind of thing that gets fixed rapidly, as Tennessee fans will find out next year when it looks likely that Kiffin will be starting a true freshman at quarterback.
So you’d think that down the road if the recruiting is as special as it’s costing, there’ll be an uptick. There are two things to keep in mind, though: how patient are they in Knoxville and how much more formidable are SEC defenses than those in the Pac-10?