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Monday, June 08, 2009

Purdue - Big 10 bottom dweller and offensive enigma?

The previews are coming in and they are grim. The Quad ranks the Boilermakers a preseason 94th, while Dr Saturday ponders the likelihood of a return to pre-Tiller ineptitude. As my previous forays evidence, Purdue, or at least its offense, is a special subject for me, as I learned a lot about the passing game, the one-back, and offense in general from the spread-show that Tiller brought to West Lafayette. The spread’s whole history is in many ways perfectly captured by Joe Tiller’s Big 10 tenure: from its blockbuster beginnings as the perfect underdog offense, which allowed the little guy to compete with the big dog, to me-too offense that everyone had to run, to finally complete saturation, where the spread – or at least the pure, pass-first version as was first developed – might actually help seal the fate of the little guy who tries to isolate inferior receivers against superior defensive backs (and hence also inferior linemen versus superior defensive linemen and linebackers).

That worry would seem particularly acute for Purdue, considering it lost its quarterback, runningback, and top two receivers, which is especially acute considering Purdue had already lost its top two receivers from the year before that as well, in Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller, now tight-end with the New York Jets. So the cupboard looks bare. Yet I speculated on what Purdue’s new “mystery offense” might look like under new offensive coordinator, calling it “NFL-esque” and even going so far as to say that Purdue’s spread offense days were “likely over.”

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.


Anonymous said...

I know very little about the OK ST offense, but now I am intrigued because I am a neanderthal that feels there is still a place for 2 back formations in football. Wondering if you had links to anything or were going to post anything in the future.

Anonymous said...

I like the marriage of the spread with some 2 back power stuff and play action and would be interested in hearing more about OK ST.

Richard said...

With respect to use of the tight end in a "spread-like" formation, two words: Aaron Hernandez.

Stan said...

I once mentioned on a thread at Homer Smith's site that the TE was the offensive answer to the zone blitz -- a dual threat athlete who could tie up two defenders. An athlete who can run block and pass protect while requiring the defense to account for his threat as a receiver.

In a sense, a focus on the TE goes back to Joe Gibbs and the H back.

The idea of the spread was that it created favorable matchups of WRs on LBs, safeties or backup corners. Defenses have learned to adjust. The new "different" will be to force defenses to deal with more dual threat -- Paul Johnson's version of the dual threat or a Pro-style focus with as many as two TEs and or 2 RBs. If "bunch" hadn't already been taken, we could call it the bunch philosophy (as opposed to the spread).

Anonymous said...

I don't buy the notion that if you're a spread team with inferior offensive talent as it relates to your opponent's defense, then your offense is all of a sudden doomed.

If your talent is that much inferior to that of your opponent's it doesn't matter what offense you run it won't make a difference.

For every bad offensive team that runs the spread I can name three bad offensive teams that run a pro-style offense.

Oklahoma State's offense is good because they have outstanding talent in the skill positions. Larry Fedora who installed that offense at OSU when he was the offensive coordinator at Mid Tenn State used that same offense and they would routinely get blasted by SEC teams with superior talent.

Mr.Murder said...

Parcells first move at Miami was to get Fasano from his old team so he had something at TE to work all factors of the game with.

His two tight end offense is the way he sees the mismatch against a run first defender, the ILB.

If you go spread in the NFL, the nickle back is usually as good a pass defender as any starter, the defense usually holds advantage.

So he goes the other direction and wants TE depth to control line blocking and keep their worst pass defender on the field.

That makes your team balanced and far less predictable.

CHM97 said...

F/UP on what STAN said... The new "different"... I agree with you. Everyone is recruiting smaller faster LBs and the counter would seem to be a PHYSICAL -2- back set / Pro style.