Another nice Ian Boyd piece about Minnesota’s offense last season here. Key graphs:
Bill Connelly’s “five factors” make it pretty clear that without explosive plays it’s very difficult to score. Programs like the one utilized by Minnesota tend to make explosiveness a later priority for the offense after beefing up the defense, avoiding negative plays or turnovers, and winning the field position battle.
The only problem with this approach is that it’s actually fairly difficult to build an offense that’s really good at avoiding negative plays or turnovers. These teams face heavy roster turnover every season and are plugging in 20-year old college students, after all.
Moving down the field with steady gains is difficult and mastering a run game system AND a timing-based, West Coast passing system for accomplishing that aim just raises the difficulty level of playing mistake-free football. This is why many schools with less resources have had more success with systems built around the constraint theory of offense where every component of the system directly builds off other parts.
The West Coast passing game and power run game are both designed to do the same thing and neither are specifically designed to punish defenses for scheming to stop the other on a given play. Executing either well enough to stay ahead of the chains, much less regularly generate explosive plays, requires developed skill and cohesion across the offense. So a team that features both is forced to spend a lot of time on each to develop the necessary mastery.
Maintaining an efficiency-based approach in the run game requires either fielding five massive linemen that can cover up opposing defensive linemen and prevent penetration, which requires recruiting big bodies and honing technique over years of development OR putting a major emphasis on double teams to ensure that the offense can clear the first level. Either way, you usually need seasoned veterans to do it well.
The needed execution in the passing game is dependent on receivers and quarterbacks that are in sync, on time, accurate, and have reliable hands. If you have those traits the receivers don’t have to be great athletes and the quarterback doesn’t have to have a cannon arm, the design of the concepts will do the heavy lifting. If you have those traits and then some speed, then you’re cooking with gas.
As I’ve mentioned before, Georgia’s offense went from averaging 6.79 yards per play in 2014, which was the seventh-best number posted in college football that season, to 6.03 yards per play last season, and dropped to fortieth nationally. The offensive scheme didn’t change, so to what can we attribute the decline? I can point to several factors:
- The injury to Nick Chubb
- The decline in yards per pass attempt from 8.1 in 2014 to 7.4 in 2015
- The deterioration in starting field position
- Third-down conversion rate, which went from top ten nationally to bottom ten
I know that some of you like to harp on Chubb’s injury as the key, and no doubt it was a serious set back. But let’s not forget that Georgia lost the services of Todd Gurley for much of the 2014 season, too.
Georgia didn’t have a deep passing game in either of the last two seasons, but managed to have a far more productive offense in 2014 because it was more efficient. That was because Mason had a higher completion percentage than Lambert, because the offense was able to take care of business on third-down and because Georgia took advantage of all the little things that go into having the best starting field position rating in the nation. Richt had his management flaws that season, but his overall game plan for the season did a good job of recognizing his team’s strengths and weaknesses and working them both to maximum effect.
That wasn’t the case last year, and it took an embarrassing loss in Jacksonville to make Richt realize that the 2014 formula wasn’t working. I would argue the seeds for that lie in the above quote: “The needed execution in the passing game is dependent on receivers and quarterbacks that are in sync, on time, accurate, and have reliable hands.”
There wasn’t a lot of returning talent in the receiving corps in 2015 and there wasn’t a starting quarterback who knew the new coordinator’s system ready to step in. Add in the uncertainty in August about the coaches being unable to settle on a starter until late in camp, and it’s easy to see why things didn’t turn out as smoothly.
Fast forward to today. The concern I have is one of history repeating. A lot of the conditions that existed in August, 2015 exist again in August, 2016. Are Chaney and Smart better able to recognize that and game plan accordingly? We’ll start finding out in about a month.