Ian Boyd takes a look at how teams like Appalachian State have married sets with fullbacks and tight ends to spread offenses. Check out this quote from Appy State’s head coach, comparing what he ran against Michigan in that infamous 2007 upset and what the Mountaineers do on offense now:
“The game has evolved since then,” Satterfield says. “Most everyone is doing some version of the spread now. The defenses have tried to catch up, and to a certain extent, they have, by putting more speed on the field. We’ve kinda gone back to running the football and a little bit more slowing the game down and limiting the offensive possessions for the other team, and that’s helped us since we moved up to the FBS level. But the game is always evolving.”
Boyd explains how schools like ASU find personnel to fit what they do now.
It used to be that when people thought about prototypical football players they thought of guys like running backs and fullbacks. Elite, physical runners and big, burly blockers who lived for the contact of the game. But nowadays the game is increasingly dominated by QBs that can process and make decisions under fire and then deliver the ball down the field through the air to receivers who are processing and making decisions on the fly.
It’s not too terribly difficult for a program like Appalachian State or NC State to load up with multiple solid running backs, nor to find blocking fullbacks and tight ends. It’s even possible to find really good ones because they no longer have as much value at the bigger universities that are only looking for TEs that can run routes.
There could probably be some advantage gained by recruiting good tailbacks and then using something like the I-formation, which is no longer common at all, to feed them the ball. That and great defense is more or less how San Diego State has been winning the Mountain West the last few years. However, that’s not what these teams are doing. Instead they’re utilizing even more old school sets like the old Wing-T combined with modern shotgun, pistol, and spread-option tactics to feature multiple ballcarriers at the same time.
Not only are those players and tactics accessible for a smaller school, but they have the added benefit noted by Satterfield above. Running simpler, up-tempo offense was always properly the purveyance of the blue blood programs. The philosophy of an up-tempo spread is truly to determine the game’s outcome by giving your own, well-drilled athletes as many opportunities as possible to out-execute their opponents while the spacing of the spread raised the stakes of every play.
Slowing the game down, limiting possessions, and trying to win through scrappy execution of unique tactics is much more an underdog strategy and the “confuse and clobber” offenses aim to do just that.
I’ve always been an advocate of contrarian thinking when it comes to offensive strategy. If defenses gear up to defend spread attacks by going faster and leaner, then a power offense should find personnel mismatches to exploit. That coaches already running spread offenses are embracing some of those tactics is another reason to love the variety that college football breeds out of necessity due to a lack of parity.
It’ll be interesting to see how Georgia handles the ASU offense, not to mention how Smart deals with Satterfield’s slowing the game down to limit Georgia’s offensive possessions.