We all talk about the disadvantage Georgia Tech’s defense is at going up against the triple option every day in practice, as it limits the looks it gets at less alien offenses. But maybe there’s a flip side, as this story about TCU demonstrates.
Patterson, after his most frustrating season as a head coach, realized he needed to make major changes. Not only did his offense struggle to keep pace on the scoreboard with the rapid-fire offenses in the Big 12, it also couldn’t give the Horned Frogs defense an adequate look at the speed it would face in a game.
After Meacham and Cumbie arrived, the offense and the defense got better. An already excellent Horned Frogs defense went from allowing 4.8 yards a play in 2013 to 4.7 in ’14, second best in the Big 12. Meanwhile, TCU’s record improved to 12–1. The Horned Frogs just missed the College Football Playoff and finished the season by pasting Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. For that, TCU can thank Patterson, the two coordinators he hired and 10 personnel.
The numbering system for personnel packages works like this. The first digit is the number of backs on the field. The second digit is the number of tight ends. To find the number of receivers, add the first two digits to six (one quarterback and five offensive linemen) and subtract that sum from 11.
The preferred personnel grouping in the Big 12 is 10: one back, zero tight ends, four receivers. TCU’s old offense was designed for 11 or 21. It also huddled regularly. TCU’s scout team offense would simulate up-tempo schemes for the defense, but when the Horned Frogs went good-on-good—when they practiced against the type of players they’d see on Saturday—the defense rarely saw anything that looked like the upcoming opponent.
That’s why Patterson doesn’t refer to his hiring of Meacham and Cumbie as a change of offense. “It’s truly a change of philosophy,” Patterson said at Big 12 media days in July 2014. He compared the old philosophy of beating teams 17–13 to drinking only water while training. What might happen, he asked, if the Horned Frogs began drinking Gatorade?
That only goes so far, of course. Patterson’s move worked because he went with the flow in his conference. And as it’s something of a prevailing flow in college football these days, it makes sense on a larger scale. (Just ask Ole Miss about that.) Would it work as well against a power pro-set attack, or Johnson’s triple option, for that matter? I’ve got no idea. But that’s one thing to love about college football, the sheer variety of offensive philosophies being deployed. And finding out who’s better at coping with whom.