As somebody who’s always believed the first law of offensive coordinating is take what the defense gives you, I’ve always favored Mike Leach’s definition of balance over, say, Mike Bobo’s.

“There’s nothing balanced about 50% run-50% pass, ’cause that’s 50% stupid. What is balance is when you have five skill positions and all five of them are contributing to the effort in somewhat equal fashion — that’s balance. This notion that if you hand one guy 50% of the time and then you throw it to a combination of two guys the other 50% that you’re really balanced. You probably pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that. People have been doing that for decades. Well, then you’re delusional.” -Mike Leach

As Ian Boyd puts it,

It’s often been noted that it can be hard to run the ball effectively if the defense isn’t worried about the pass at all because defenders fly downhill when they see run blocking. Alternatively, a defense that isn’t worried about the run can play more DBs, bring more exotic blitzes, and rush the passer off the snap more aggressively. In that sense, balance can just mean making a defense worry about multiple things before the snap to prevent them from zeroing in.

Mike Leach prefers to think of balance in terms of how many skill players on the field have to hold the attention of the defense. If all five skill players are a threat to receive a pass from the QB and do damage with the ball, it becomes very difficult to account for everyone on every snap.

He then goes on to look at what balance means in an era of pass-first, HUNH spread offense.  There are effective wrinkles, of course, but in the end, it still comes back to the Jimmies and Joes.

Having balance in the Leach-ian sense is pretty difficult. Ensuring that there are players at all five skill positions that can actually threaten a defense is pretty difficult. For years Leach was able to do it because his Tech teams were unique in their approach and defensive rosters weren’t built to handle facing so many competent receivers. Nowadays his teams face a squad like Washington that plays in base nickel personnel with speedy LBs in the middle of the field and there are diminishing returns.

Having a roster that can put five skill players on the field at the same time who can be counted on to carry the day if the defense dictates that the ball needs to go there.

Remember, the spread started as a way to give teams with lesser talent a shot at competing with their betters.  It’s certainly evolved from there, but as it has, defenses have evolved with it.  If the world is moving to stop pass-first offenses — and Boyd takes the position that’s still an ongoing process — the teams that are left with high levels of talent and run-heavy schemes that should be able to exploit defenses not geared for that sort of attack should be successful in pursuing a contrarian approach.  Gee, I wonder if we know of any programs that take such an approach…


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

9 responses to “Balance

  1. gastr1

    It’s interesting that this post began by praising Leach’s unique interpretation of balance as the singular influence of the HUNH revolution, but ends with pointing out that there are diminishing returns against defenses that gave adapted.

    What’s the Pirate planning to do about this? I seem to recall that there were comments from the UW people this past year that Leach’s teams haven’t even changed their playbook against them. What percentage of stupid is that?

    Once more, this time with feeling…CML = inverted CPJ. (Including personality-wise.)


  2. The idea of 5 skill guys who can hurt you makes the dual-threat QB unnecessary for some of the elite programs. You need enough mobility at QB for him to buy time when he needs and get a few yards when he has to.

    That’s exactly why I love the pistol with 3 wide and a good tight end. You have to cover the width and length of the field in the passing game. Generally, that’s going to mean you have a favorable box to run in because a defense has to keep a 5th DB on the field. You will always have the worst corner over the slot and either a LB or safety over the TE.

    I’ll take my chances with that every time.


    • True, we have been enjoying mucho success from the pistol formation, especially in the latter Bobo years. It does seem to be a hybrid of sorts.


      • Mac, it seemed to me like we didn’t see a lot of pistol from Chaney. We seemed to have the RB next to Fromm or at a tailback depth with him under center.

        Maybe I missed it, but it appeared the pistol disappeared from the offense after CMB left for Fort Collins.


        • Could be wrong, but thought it made some rare appearances. At least I heard a bar conversation (or maybe I didn’t) where one guy said, while infrequent, that results showed we should have used it more often. I didn’t look back to see if he was correct, thought I remembered seeing it on occasion as well, you may be right. But I am sure we had some damned good results when Bobo went to it, and Coley should revisit some Bobo film, and also pay some close attention to screens while he is at it.


          • The running back screen is another play that has gone the way of the buggy whip and the fullback in today’s game. Running backs seem to be the last check down in today’s college game. You may see a flare to a running back with receivers and maybe a tight end blocking, but the road grading screen game isn’t a big thing any longer.


          • Anonymous

            There were a few times this year were Chaney pulled out the Pistol formation, but, like you said, it wasn’t a regular thing. The real difference between the Pistol and Shotgun in terms of running the ball are that the blocking angles are different. This is especially true for Gap / Power plays In my estimation, 90% of the running plays when there was not an H-back / 2nd TE, were either inside or outside zone. There is no real advantage to being in the pistol for either as the RB is further from the LOS and OL blocking rules would not change. It does make a difference in Man or Gap / Power (which we run sparingly since after 2016).


            • My only issue with running from the shotgun rather than the pistol is that with the shotgun you generally telegraph where your best running threat is going. Lined up left of the QB, he’s generally going right and vice versa. In the pistol at least, you have the ability to be neutral in the running game.

              Regardless, you better block well up front or it doesn’t work because you don’t have a lead blocker to open or clean up the hole for the back.


  3. Dawgflan

    Balance is about preparing multiple ways of stressing the defense before the game, not simply taking what is given. We all know the ways… 1-on-1 match ups, over-whelming with skill players, over-wheloming with power/size, hesitation with play-action, conflict with dual-threat-QB, surprise/novelty, etc. Good offensive balance is going into each game prepared to stress defenses in multiple ways. It’s OK to lean on Plan A as long as it works, as long as you have a Plan B ready to counter. I get most frustrating watching the UGA offense when Plan A stalls and apparently there is no Plan B. See Nichols St., UF 4th downs x8, 2019 Sugar Bowl. I hope that changes with Coley.