[T]here are times when I look at spread offenses and I see value. The key to the spread offense, and the reason why its successful, is that it adds an extra player. It diminishes the need for great offensive linemen, because you’ve got a little longer because you are always in the gun, and the quarterback’s a runner. So, in essence, he becomes a blocker, and can account for an extra defender. All great thoughts . . . . The problem at UCLA is that you have to beat the Trojans. And it's also the benefit at UCLA, because when you beat them, you’re going to be among the nation’s elite. So you have to be a physical offense. I know that two years ago SC got beat by Oregon up in Eugene, but his last year, SC with their physical defense was able to beat the heck out of a very, very good spread offense Oregon team.
You’ve also seen when you lose a quarterback in the spread offense, things can go awry, as happened with Oregon two years ago. They lost Dennis Dixon and then I think they lost their last three games to Arizona, to UCLA and then to Oregon State. It’s a difficult offense to have a lot players at the quarterback position because it’s so [much] decision making, which requires all the repetitions and, yet, you’re exposing them.
I was the benefactor of a type of spread offense, even though it was an option offense, it’s the same math in terms of the quarterback’s [being] a runner in Marcus Tuiasosopo at Washington which we took to the Rose Bowl. So, I understand the benefits and the virtues of having the extra guy. I just think you have to be careful about how often you expose that quarterback. [Jeremiah] Masoli at Oregon was maybe the player of the year had he burst onto the scene maybe a couple weeks earlier last year. But, if he’s gone, what happens to the offense?
That being said, the other thing that kids are interested in today is the chance to go to play on Sundays. You are not seeing spread offenses played on Sundays. Vince Young would have been the perfect guy to go and do it, but even Vince Young didn’t want to do it. And I have it on authority, because Norm was there, because he doesn’t want to get hit anymore. He doesn’t want to get beat up on an every-Sunday basis and shorten his career length. So, quarterbacks that are interested in going to the NFL would like to be in pro-style offenses. So, you can go and attract guys. [Likewise,] offensive linemen, frankly, would like to be in offenses that are going to be like the NFL because they’d like to have a chance to play in more of that scheme. It goes on down the line; the more you play like an NFL offense, the more the NFL can look and see your skill level and adapt it to that. That argument gets more watered down the further out you go because obviously receivers can still play receiver, and running backs can still play running back.
But it’s an interesting question, and I think you can never, ever stop investigating it, and researching it, and having some components of it. There were some components of the spread offense in what we did last year. We got into the old wildcat stuff, and it isn’t as though we’ve got our heads in the sand. I just think, to start with, we’ve got to be a physical running team that can handle the line of scrimmage with the likes of a very talented defensive team like USC.
(H/t: TeamSpeedKills and Bruins Nation.)
There's a lot going on there, to say nothing of the Norm Chow/Neuheisel sandbagging of Vince Young as "not wanting to get hit anymore." Team Speed Kills rightfully takes Pretty Ricky to task for conflating the "spread" -- which best describes certain formations with multiple receivers -- with an entire offensive philosophy: "Basically what he described is the Rich Rodriguez/Urban Meyer style offense (except for the part about the spread not being physical). However, that's not necessarily what a spread offense is."
That's true. And Neuheisel is all over the place in this answer. Yet, assuming that Neuheisel, when he says "spread" means that particular type of running QB spread, still identified some points worth addressing. He says the spread is great, but (a) it's not physical enough to be used to beat Southern Cal consistently, (b) it's too quarterback dependent and prone to injuries, (c) the pros don't use it so recruits might not want to, and (d) that said, it does have certain arithmetic advantages in terms of getting extra blockers or numbers.
This is a broad topic, about which I have previously had much to say already. And, though I agree that Neuheisel oversimplifies in equating the "spread" with the Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez/Oregon spread-to-run-the-QB offenses, it's not entirely fair to say that he's way off base. I take Neuheisel as understanding that, in its most general sense, "spread" is just a formation with some extra receivers. But it's also true that "spread offenses" -- often self-described -- have claimed an identity, and as lame, vague, and non-descriptive as the term is, what is the alternative? (Note my term above was "Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez/Oregon spread-to-run-use-the-QB offenses" -- hardly a model of clarity or brevity.)
So when someone asks Neuheisel, who for years has run a west coast or three-wide type pro-style pass attack, "What do you think of the spread?" naturally he's going to think of it as opposed to what he and Norm Chow do, which, at least at one time, people would have described as "spread" in the sense that the New England Patriots or Arizona Cardinals are spread. (Imagine if someone dropped Neuheisel and Chow's offense into 1983 -- they would undoubtedly be "spread.") Indeed, the core of Chow's offense is used by Mike Leach in his four-wide all the time Airraid; if Leach is "spread" and Chow is not, then that means we put a great deal of weight in the cosmetics of being in the shotgun, and it begs the question of at what point does your use of a tight-end make you "not spread"?)
In any event, this Wittgensteinian debate about defining "spread" versus "pro-style" versus "spread option" (Wait, is Florida "spread option" or is Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech?) obscures some of the actual points Neuheisel makes, which are worth addressing. For now, everyone should just understand that we have no good terms anymore, as "spread" and "pro-style" and even "option" (now co-opted from true triple option teams to anyone who pitches it after their zone-read, and sometimes announcers even refer to the zone-read as "option" which it is not -- it's just an amped up bootleg pass; more on this later) have bled their descriptive lives away. So let's get to the underlying issues, assuming we are all talking about this running QB spread -- which includes a wide swath of teams still -- as opposed to just multiple receiver formations.
Here's Neuheisel's points, paraphrased, and my brief responses.
(a) The spread isn't physical enough to be used to beat Southern Cal consistently. False. USC is just a damn good team, so you can get by with this little fallacy since everyone loses to USC a lot anyway. It's really not worth wading into the spread being a physical or finesse offense argument right now, suffice to say that it is fairly silly. Now, Texas Tech is no smashmouth team, but Neuheisel was discussing the spread to run teams: who can say Florida was not physical enough? And he admits that Oregon beat USC, yet his reason that they lost later was not that they were less physical but that their quarterbacks were injured. I think some teams are more physical than others, but in this case the spread aspect doesn't change anything. Adding a tight-end for a wide receiver can't change your whole team dynamic, and neither does it define it.
(b) The spread is too quarterback dependent and prone to injuries. Well, there's an irony about this coming from Neuheisel whose first season was marred by a multitude of quarterback injuries, and then the subsequent horrendous play of the guy they were stuck with. So yes, I completely agree that the spread -- just ask Michigan -- requires excellent quarterback play. But that's the trend with all offenses now. The difference between the spread and some other offenses is that you look for a wider variety of skills in the quarterback, and a good team can play to them. The guy does need the ability to run a little bit (again, just ask Michigan), but neither does the guy have to be one of USC's 5-Star statuesque passers to succeed. In other words, the spread is a double-edged sword in this respect. Yes, you absolutely need a good quarterback to succeed with because it is so focused on him, you can have success with a wider variety of quarterbacks. Indeed, Oregon is exhibit A last year: they had great success despite losing several quarterbacks throughout the year.
(c) The pros don't use it so recruits might not want to either. I'm no recruiting guru, so I can't tell you what they want, but it's true that the Pros are never going to be truly spread in the sense of the zone-read or triple or all that. Now, with the wildcat maybe they see some arithmetic advantages (see below) while still keeping the ability to throw the ball a bit more. We'll see, in any event. But however true this argument is, it's not an argument about why you should or should not use the offense in college, other than the recruiting aspect. And again, in the last several years the National Champion has been quarterbacked by guys like Vince Young and Tim Tebow, so I'm not convinced that recruiting is really as bad as they say.
(d) That said, the spread does have certain arithmetic advantages in terms of getting extra blockers or numbers. This is of course the truest thing Neuheisel said. It was well summed up by one of Rick's mentors, Homer Smith, quoted in a recent post of mine:
The spread offense today features the running QB. Defensive problems come from not having a tackler ready for the QB at the line of scrimmage. . . . As long as running QBs keep winning the jobs, the spread will be the formation of choice. Someone has to tackle the QB. If that someone is looking for a post pass, the QB is going to have running room.
With this quote it's no surprise that Neuheisel equates "spread" with running QB. But Coach Smith's point is exactly right: if your quarterback is a threat to run, you can dramatically alter the defense's structure.
All this flows from the simple fact that there are eleven players on one side and eleven players on the other. Every ballcarrier necessarily has an unblocked counterpart: if you bunched up and tried to block everybody one guy is still unblocked. Maybe you can dictate who that is so he is too far away, but the defense will always have one guy.
In the NFL, the quarterback hands the ball off on a run play and stands there. The quarterback's counterpart is usually the deep safety -- he stays back in case there's a play action pass. The runningback's counterpart is still free to come up and make the tackle.
With the shotgun run game and great faking and reading, the quarterback can alter the assignments. He can occupy two defenders: the backside defensive end, who must watch him for a run, and the deep safety, who has to guard the post-pass. This opens up blocking in the run game. Note the two circled defenders.
Alternatively, you could also just look at it as a transfer of who is assigned to whom. Instead of the defensive end being unblocked and able to chase down the runningback, he must account for the quarterback. So even if the safety is responsible for the runningback (a tendency you can exploit with play-action), your runner is still through the hole before he gets tackled.
Thus, there are plenty more issues with the "spread" to work out, and in the process that term has quickly lost almost all use as a meaningful and descriptive term. I agree that it should probably be relegated to describing only a formation, but it's not easy to transfer everyone's lexicon, and it's not like I have a ready subsitute term in place. And Neuheisel raises some interesting -- and common -- points about the offense, but I can't say I agree with him up and down. It sounds more like he's trying to justify why they do what they do rather than what seems to be popular, and he shouldn't have to. That's his choice, and he will succeed or not on that basis.