Here’s a really good piece on the strategy behind what Art Briles and Bob Stitt do on offense with what the article calls the “super-spread”.
The super-spread relies on simple math. If a cornerback is defending a athletic wide receiver in a confined area, the receiver will struggle to get open. But the more of the field the cornerback has to defend, the more successful the receiver is going to be.
Let’s say a defense is in man coverage and a corner is trying to defend a receiver that’s lined up five yards wider than normal. If that receiver gets targeted on a crossing route 5 yards downfield, and he has covered 15 yards laterally, the area under the route is 37.5 square yards. But if the receiver is lined up 5 yards wider and gets to the same spot, the cornerback has to cover 50 square yards. Sometimes the receiver won’t get to that same point, but there is more space to work with underneath the route before things get crowded.
Similarly, if the defense is in zone — let’s say cover four quarters, with three linebackers covering across the middle and four defensive backs lined up roughly 7 yards off the line of scrimmage — and two receivers are lined up 5 yards wider than normal, each of the three linebackers have to account for 3.3 yards more, width-wise. If the zone is roughly 5 yards deep, that’s 16.5 more square yards per zone.
That works particularly well when teams need to neutralize talent discrepancies, as was the case in Montana’s first game of the season — Stitt’s first game with the Grizzlies and first at the FCS level — against top-ranked North Dakota State. Though as Briles has shown through Baylor’s rise, having more talented players is no detriment; it just makes the offense that much more effective. Despite having inferior players who were being introduced to a new system, Montana neutralized the Bison defense. After giving up just 280 yards per game last year, NDSU gave up 544 yards.
North Dakota State’s defenders play well against the run and well against the pass, but it is almost impossible for them to play well against both, simultaneously. With the field spread so wide, it is impossible for teams to play zone effectively against a super-spread offense, so teams often opt to play the pass, spreading their defenses out to match the opposing offense. That means many defenses will only put five players in the box to rush the passer and defend the middle of the field.
“It’s an offensive line coach’s dream to get a five-man box,” Stitt said. “If you do the right things in the spread, you’re going to (get a five-man box).”
I said during the Montana-NDS game that in a few years, I could see a Stitt-coached Vanderbilt driving Nick Saban crazy.