You know, all these years I thought the spread offense taking over college football would mean that contrarian pro-style college attacks would have an advantage taking on defenses that were geared to stop spread offensive schemes and also on the recruiting trail. I may have a point with regard to the former, but with regard to recruiting, I may not have taken something into account.
The spread is taking over high school football, too.
In 2017, by the time a player reaches college, he has become more skilled at the collegiate game than most any player who came before him. When the same player reaches the NFL, he has played almost no football reminiscent of the NFL game.
“It’s the same sport, but it’s two different games,” Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said. “It’s a night-and-day difference in terms of the style of play. While most everyone focuses on the quarterback, the style of play being utilized across the board in college football, it’s a significant adjustment.”
A dozen years ago, many top high school football teams still relied on ancient tactics. In the South, Wright said, the Wing-T still dominated. The spread had seeped into college football’s fringes, but the game mostly looked like the NFL. Offenses used two backs and a tight end, with the quarterback under center.
“For a long time, the collegiate game and the NFL really mirrored each other,” Wright said. “You saw that schematically. You saw that with the type of quarterbacks going from one level to the other. You don’t see that much anymore. Try to find a true fullback on a college roster. It’s just tough to find. Now you’re hard-pressed to even find a [high school] team that goes under center.
“What you’re seeing is a reflection of the way the game has evolved. College football, with all the opportunities to watch it, kids and high school coaches get inundated with it. You see that being reflected in high school offenses, in the way high school coaches think and approach it.”
That doesn’t mean if you’re a school like Georgia that still incorporates pro-style concepts into its offensive scheme that the world you face is suddenly devoid of the talent you need to make things go, but it makes it harder to find that talent, because there may not be as much out there as there once was. It also puts a greater premium on developing whatever talent you do find.
“In middle school, you take the best athlete, you give him the ball, let him pass and run, and you win,” Savage said. “And he’s not really developed. In high school, you give him the ball, they win, but he’s not really developing the characteristics and traits that are needed to play pro football. In most college teams, it’s the same. That development is put off in terms of becoming a pocket passer.
“Then it’s shoved off to the pro game. The pro game because of the amount of money invested in the quarterback position, they cannot put the quarterback in harm’s way. The pro game is never going to be able to adapt. They have too much money invested in the quarterback to expose him.”
In college, they may not have money invested in the quarterback, but, between the 20-hour week and four years of eligibility, they only have a limited amount of coaching to invest. It’s a different kind of scarcity.
Speaking of scarcity, see if this doesn’t make you think about what Smart wants to do on offense.
Put the problem of quarterback hits aside, though, and conservatism permeates the NFL, where offenses aim to hog possession and limit mistakes. College offenses uniformly use tempo to tire defenses and create personnel mismatches. College coaches try to win games, and NFL coaches try not to lose them.
The use of the word “uniformly” is a bit of a stretch, but game control is a concept that is dwindling in the college ranks. What that means on the recruiting trail and in the quarterbacks room for schools like Georgia is something I’d bet Smart thinks about. Maybe the only thing you can wind up doing these days is recruit as many highly regarded quarterbacks as you can and let them sort things out once they get settled in your program. The first to adapt wins.