Has the spread stopped spreading?

Paul Myerberg has a story in USA Today that suggests college football defenses are starting to catch up with the offenses.

Yet as teams prepare for September, defenses across college football have taken steps toward closing the gap.

Repetition, increased familiarity, tweaked personnel packages and increased communication have helped to turn back time — offenses still rule, but more so than at any point in the last decade, defenses can hold their heads high.

“Defense has adjusted,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “Defense has caught up to the lightning no-huddle, the fast-break no-huddle.”

The most interesting point of view in his article comes from Rich Rodriguez, maybe the guy more than anyone else responsible for putting a lot of the swing towards offense in motion.

For defenses in this era, it’s not about winning the war; the opposition is always going to score points, often in bunches, and rare is the defense that can singlehandedly carry a team to a successful season. It’s about winning individual battles — on third down, for example, or in the red zone.

And no development has played a greater factor in a subtle defensive revival than the proliferation of spread offenses themselves. Ten years ago, a defense might face one or two early adopters of the style during the course of a single season. Now, teams will face an up-tempo opponent more often than not, and in many cases spend an entire year defending the system during practice.

“The more teams that do that, the more defense is going to study it. The more defense studies it, the more variety of schemes you get,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

“What we see now how teams are defending us now are much different than what they were defending 15, 20 years ago just because they see it all the time.”

It’s even affected his recruiting.

This has also led some programs to alter the way they recruit. In the past, Rodriguez would split his team’s 85 scholarships evenly between offense and defense. Recently, however, “it’s been flipping the other way,” he said: Arizona may have as many as 50 scholarships devoted to defense, compared to 30 on offense.

Nobody thinks college football is going to return to the grind it out times of 2006, but it was always a bit of an overreaction to pretend the sport was being irretrievably changed by the onslaught of the HUNH and the spread.  Hell, let’s not forget that Mark Richt was playing around with that stuff during his FSU days.

One thing Myerberg doesn’t touch on that I’m curious about is what effect the next wave of technology is going to have on the chess match between offenses and defenses.  If communication is one of the things that’s allowed defensive coaches to narrow the gap, what happens when they’re allowed to use computer tablets on the sideline for immediate analysis and when direct miking of players’ helmets becomes a reality?

15 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

15 responses to “Has the spread stopped spreading?

  1. Bright Idea

    With football under attack the high school game is surviving because of the spread and summer 7 on 7 leagues. This is helping develop defenses and players who can cover too. All of that continues to filter upward until it hits the wall that is the NFL which will soon have no choice but to adapt. Yes, defenses are catching on but the days of the shutout are long gone.

  2. AthensHomerDawg

    “Hell, let’s not forget that Mark Richt was playing around with that stuff during his FSU days.”

    Seems like CMR tried that at Georgia too but the refs wouldn’t allow it?

    • Otto

      We hear that excuse but remember Richt told Bobo that Deshaun Watson would be a star, and Richt called a dual threat game with Shock at QB. I put this more on Richt handing the keys to the car off to Bobo.

  3. Otto

    Defenses may adjusting more to the spread but even Bama is running more snaps out of the shotgun with more WRs spreading the field. It will be interesting to see if and when the I formation or 2 TE power sets becomes more of an advantage with defenses giving up some bulk to win these one on one battles.

    • That’s the question I’ve been asking for the last five or so years.

      • Otto

        Agreed, unique offenses if you can execute and attract the talent can be very successful, Osborne under Nebraska, early spread teams such as WVU, Tx Tech and to a lesser extent GT, (CPJ can’t get the talent that Chan was getting) all showed that.

        I disagree that the spread has stopped spreading but is becoming the norm. However, most are not going for the quick snap that GUs and Oregon want to go at. Formations will come and go as rules change and defense adjust their speed and weight to what they face.

        On the flip side look at TCU, Patterson went spread in order to get his defense adjusted to facing the speed of play and multiple WRs of the BigXII.

        I have posted here in the past I am interested to see how much Chaney runs out of shotgun. Eason seemingly being the starter would lead me to believe he is planning on running the bulk of the game out of shotgun.

  4. Macallanlover

    Interesting discussion points. Defensive recruiting is still in flux (big bodies vs smaller mobile linemen, smaller LBs to cover the entire width of the field vs large thumpers, bigger safeties and CBs who can react quickly and bring a smack down hit, etc.) and the trend is to the hybrid guys who can perform to different personnel packages. I am not sure the final answer has been reached but defensive coaches in the PAC12 and Big12 have it easier than do those in conferences where you face both an LSU/Bama power running game every year as well as a Malzahn, Sumner spread HUNH offense.

    Last year I saw Saban and Smart have a platoon system deployed along the sideline near the LOS last season to react more quickly to offensive personnel changes and varying situations. I had never seen that before from any team, sometimes they would actually be a few steps onto the field but never beyond the has marks. UGA probably has some players that are more effective against one vs the other type of personnel groupings on the offense but I doubt we have the quality depth to employ that strategy, at least for now. Rodriquez is right about giving more defensive ships than offensive ones but he is lucky that only Stanford and USC in the PAC12 run the pro sets as the norm.

  5. 69Dawg

    The telling point in the above was made by Rich Rod. The allocation of man power to the defense has got to change. Alabama is leading the way again. They have different DLines to defend against different styles of offense. If they are playing a spread team they get the smaller (relatively speaking) D guys that are faster. If they are playing a pro team (see us last year) they run the big guys in and stuff the LOS. Look at us we have 50+/- defensive players including scout team guys. The offensive side has has about 66 players including scout team guys. I expect that will change with a defensive trained head coach.

    • dawgtired

      Didn’t LSU a few years back have a package in their 4-3 where the 4 down linemen were DEs? Players like Carter, Rochester and Barnett are going to become sought after commodities (even more so) because of versatility. Coaches won’t have to exchange their DL like underwear to keep up with the varying offenses.

    • Macallanlover

      And that is the concern, Bama had trouble with spread teams and mobile QBs, the two platoon defensive line option they employed last year would seem to be unlikely at UGA given our lack of experienced depth on that unit. Going forward, does he switch to a heavier balance to defense, and/or recruit a different body type? Teams like AU, Ole Miss, TN, Clemson, A&M, etc come and go from our schedule but then you have the FU, Bama, SC, GT, and LSU run a power running game that we have to deal with every year, or in Atlanta. And in a bowl game, you can get either/or depending on the draw. I know I would have hated to play an Oregon, TCU, Washington State, type offense given our issues with spread passing teams, and our troubles with mobile QBs. I agree with the post, adjustments are being made but I think the defenses are still on their heels because of the plurality of teams (not to mention the rules changes that have benefited the offenses.)