I may have spoken too soon, though the signals are mixed. Blogs for the Orlando Sun Sentinel, in reporting on Nord’s leaving the Florida Atlantic staff where he had worked for Howard Schnellenberger (and had worked for Schnellenberger for decades, going back to their time together at Louisville), assured its readers that Nord’s departure did not mean that FAU would become a spread team: “Note: The offense will remain the same. Howard is not about to join the charge to the spread. And as was shown Saturday night, his offense can roll through defenses and put up points just like the spread can.” This implies that he did not run a spread offense at FAU.
Similarly, the reports are that Nord is pleased with the development of his tight-ends, and looks to feature them at Purdue. Now, tight-ends and the spread are not mutually exclusive, but such a heavy focus is usually a bit different than the philosophy as it is for most spread teams. As the Indianapolis Journal and Courier has reported:
Gary Nord made no secret about one of his goals for Purdue's offense.
"We're going to throw the ball to the tight end," the first-year offensive coordinator said.
Nord's history would indicate that he won't stray far from that statement. In his 24 seasons as an offensive coordinator, tight ends have led in receptions 22 times.
"We're seeing that," junior tight end Kyle Adams said. "Coach Nord gets the ball a lot to the tight ends. It's great being in this offense."
Okay. But then ESPN throws out further mixed signals:
Florida Atlantic used more two-back sets with double tight ends, but kept the spread structure in place.
What is a “spread structure” with two-back sets? At some point all that is just semantics. What I predicted, based on what I had seen from Nord and Schenellenberger, was a pro-style offense in that they would use one-back, four wide, five wide sets, but also two-back, I-formation ones with play-action. Whether that is “spread structure” or not, I am unsure, but the basic idea was to predicate your offense on either a one-two punch of power-runs with play-action passes or spread sets with quick and five-step passes countered by draws and screens. Purdue, with Painter and in recent years, focused almost entirely on the latter, whereas I expected Nord to bring in a mix.
Below are clips of the kinds of sets I expected Nord to mix in with his system.
Note the mix of spread sets and play-action from traditional sets. Yet here is video of Purdue’s spring game. (Ht: The Rivalry, Esq.
Looks an awful like the old stuff, no? That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s a concern. FAU had some decent success as an upstart program running a system that suddenly was sort of out of vogue – the pro-style stuff. Yet why focus solely on what hadn’t gotten you over the hump against the good teams? Maybe those concepts are on the way; maybe Purdue didn’t want to show too much for spring ball; maybe they know something I don’t. I’m sure familiarity with the old system was important for the players because so much of the spring was about newness: new players, new coaches, new schemes. So no need to unleash the whole package. But I’m just not convinced Purdue will win a lot of games without doing something more interesting next year, and that more interesting might be something a bit old school. Going back to the Brees days of five-wide three-step quick game from gun will not be enough; being different takes all kinds of forms.
Best case scenario: the offense evolves from what is in that spring highlight clip to something like what Mike Gundy and Gunter Brewer do at Oklahoma State – lots of three-wide, one-back and one tight-end sets, play-action from gun as well as quick passes, and the occasional under center look as well. (The more I study the Okie State offense the more I like it, at least regarding schemes.) Worst case scenario? A replay of 2008, but with inferior players.