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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What might the University of Tennessee's new offense look like?

Among the reasons that Lane Kiffin was hired at Tennessee -- other than to stir up various controversies and to publicly go after both Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer of course -- was to revitalize a stagnant Volunteer offense. And, other than his stint in Oakland (where offense goes to die, just ask Randy Moss) Kiffin sports some some fairly impressive offensive credentials, i.e. his years at Southern Cal first under Norm Chow and later as co-offensive coordinator with Steve Sarkisian. To aid him in bringing potency to the offense is the Vols' new OC, Jim Chaney, who is best known as the offensive whiz who brought basketball-on-grass to Purdue (along with Joe Tiller and Drew Brees). Chaney is most recently of the St. Louis Rams with Scott Linehan, but, much like Kiffin's time in Oakland, the less said about that the better.

So what will the UT offense look like in 2009? Hard to say, but it is likely to be a blend of the USC offense and what Jim Chaney did in college and the pros.

Since Pete Carroll and Norm Chow put together the USC offense and it took off (there is some minor controversy about who should receive most of the credit), Southern Cal's offense has been built around a few basic features:

1. It is pro-style in the sense of formation and personnel: They use a tight-end, they keep the quarterback under center most of the time, and use a variety of formations.

2. The running game is based around zone blocking, which focuses on double-teams at the point of attack and gives the runningback freedom to hit it playside or cutback; wherever the crease is. This kind of running works well from one-back sets and multiple formations, since it doesn't require (though it can use) a lead-blocker and the rules for the linemen stay the same regardless of whether there are two tight-ends or four receivers in the game.

3. The passing game is a steady dose of simple dropbacks and quick, three-step passes, but with plenty of play-action is thrown into the mix for the purpose of striking for big plays. Think Indianapolis Colts in terms of play-selection, though with more quick, three-step passes, like the "spacing" concept:

Also, you can get a flavor of the old USC offense by watching the below highlight video of Palmer:

What Chaney has historically done is actually quite similar: He too has long utilized one-back sets, five-step and three-step passes, and the run-game is all zone blocking based. So it's a good fit, which is one of the things that Kiffin had long made clear: he wanted to find someone to call the plays but run his system.

The biggest differences between Chaney's system and Kiffin's -- at least as highlighted during Chaney's time at Purdue -- was Purdue's total commitment to the spread, including the shotgun and lots of five-wide sets, and their receivers' heavy dose of "option routes," which give the receiver the freedom to cut in or out (or curl up) depending how the defense plays them. That said, Norm Chow had these routes in his arsenal too, so it isn't like Kiffin is unfamiliar with them. Diagram of Chow's version below (hat tip Bruce Eien).

Compare the Drew Brees highlights with the Carson Palmer ones from above.

Bottom line

The upshot is that it's still too early to tell -- and I will have to wait until closer to the season to give the Vols' offense a fuller analysis -- but don't expect an Urban Meyer or Rich Rodriguez style spread offense, but neither should you expect the old West Coast Offense either. The formations will likely be basic one-back ones with a mixture of three-, four- and five-wide receivers, but with the ability to "get big" with tight-ends and fullbacks when the situation requires. In other words, they will be multiple. Below is a clip of Jim Chaney answering tentative questions about the offense.

If you want more specifics on the dropback game, check out this post from Trojan Football Analysis on Norm Chow's passing offense. (And see my Airraid post that includes routes and reads from Norm Chow, whose offense Mike Leach's Airraid is a steroid-infused and mutated version.)

And for run game specifics, might as well get them from the horse's mouth: Alex Gibbs, run-game guru of the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, who taught Chow, Carroll, Sarkisian, Kiffin, et al. how to properly run the zone run game.

UPDATE: In response to an email, I thought I'd mention that Jim Chaney helped orchestrate the the single worst whipping of a Nick Saban defense I've ever seen (and I have watched this tape a bunch of times): Purdue's 52 to 28 victory of Saban's then #7 ranked Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State had no answer for Brees: Purdue took a 28-6 lead on four first-half Brees TD passes, and for the game he was 40 of 57 (!) for 509 yards and 5 touchdowns. As Saban said, they were "humbled." As I said, I can't think of any other game where a Saban defense just got destroyed in that way, and it was Chaney there calling the plays.

The bad news? The next season (when Purdue went to the Rose Bowl), Michigan State beat Purdue 30-10. Saban's pretty good at making adjustments.

UPDATE 2: The good Senator over at Get the Picture chimes in with good thoughts. He accurately notes that many observers noticed that playcalling under Kiffin and Sarkisian at USC was more erratic than Norm Chow's "surgical precision." Then again, it's supposed to be Chaney doing the actual play-calling, so as long as Kiffin's scheme is sound, all should be well, right? We'll see.


Blake H said...

Found this post via Great writeup! Very informative!

Unknown said...

Great post. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Kiffin can do with the Vols. So far he's landed the number one recruit in the nation in Bryce Brown. Bryce has a great head on his shoulders and it's exciting to see what's to come with Kiffin, Brown, and the Vols!

Anonymous said...

great post. no sound on the alex gibbs video though? :(

the tri guy said...

Bryce Brown has a great head on his shoulders? I'm sure his "agent" that helped him in recruiting would agree with that.

I remember that Purdue beatdown of Saban. The only one that I can think of that was close was the 04 UGA dismantling of LSU, but that was more David Greene killing them with fade passes. Greenie only completed 10 passes that whole game(although 5 were TD's) as opposed to 50! 50! Against Saban!

Anonymous said...

I can't seem to get the Gibbs video to work. Any suggestions?