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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Archie Cooley, Jerry Rice, and the "Satellite Express"

I've often detailed the history of the spread, but an unsung innovator was Mississippi Valley State's Archie Cooley. In the '80s, Cooley installed a wide-open, no-huddle, five-wide attack that saw parallel in ingenuity for at least another decade. As an article at the time described:

Cooley, 45, is head coach at Mississippi Valley State University, a little school with an enormous passing attack. In the last two years, his Delta Devils - assembled with a recruiting budget of $3,500 a year - won 17 of 21 games, averaging 51 points a game.

They did it with no huddle.

They did it with 55 passes a game.

They did it with something called the Satellite Express, an imaginative, freaky offense designed by Cooley and named presumably for quarterback Willie "The Satellite" Totten, a senior who has replaced Neil Lomax as the most devastating college football passer ever.

Using Cooley's Satellite Express, Mississippi Valley State has broken virtually every NCAA Division I-AA passing record.

Willie "The Satellite" Totten was the triggerman, but on the receiving end of his passes, roughly 300 of them, was Jerry Rice. Yeah, 49ers-Hall-of-Fame-Dancing-with-the-Stars Jerry Rice. And Rice's incredible talent led Cooley to the most natural evolution of his five-wide attack: put four guys to one side of the field, and put Jerry Rice -- nicknamed "World" because there "wasn't a pass in the world he couldn't catch" -- to the other.

Totten would signal a route to Rice backside (much like the run and shoot "choice" concept) and then the four receivers to the other side would run some dizzying array of combinations, usually with at least one guy in a sort of "trail" position who could catch a dump-off if the defense retreated.

By doing this Cooley was able to put the defense in an impossible bind: no one in D I-AA could cover Rice (in his college career he set then NCAA records in catches, with 301, yards, with 4,693, and touchdowns, with 50), but if the defense double- or triple-teamed him then they gave up numbers and leverage to the four receiver side.

As you can imagine, footage of Mississippi Valley State is, well, scarce. So I was delighted to stumble on this old gamefilm (apparently filmed on some kind of pre-Victorian camera).

In the clip, notice how many guys Louisiana Tech lines up on Rice: always two, sometimes even three. But if you wait until near the end of the clip, around the 4:30 mark, the defense finally singles him up. Totten then calls Rice's number and throws him a fade for an inevitable touchdown. Time for the defense to rethink things.


Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting footage. Hard to figure out what patterns Miss. Valley St. is using. Looks like a lot of curl routes, but I could be wrong.

Will said...


Every time someone brings up this offense, there's one feature that amazes me. The film, unlike the diagram you posted, shows that they ran this system from under center instead from the gun. You can see they ran a lot of quick routes, but it's still hard to imagine how they managed to protect the passer when they were empty almost full time and had no tight ends or slotbacks who could help in protection while at least threatening to release for a pass or crack down on a sprint-out. Maybe in the early 80's defenses were still thinking in terms of flex schemes that would read and react instead of get after the passer, or maybe MVSU had some amazing linemen, but otherwise I can't figure it out. I have a hard time thinking you could do this today and give the QB enough time to so much as cock his arm.

Gary said...

That second play (the "trail" route you mentioned) looks like an early evolution of the bubble screen.

Great post.

Chris said...


I fixed the diagram; you're right it's almost all under center. Doesn't matter too much but figured I'd fix it.

In terms of protecting, well it goes to show you that you don't always need shotgun, even these days. Most of their drops still seemed like 3-step and quick 5-step drops, and that's the most important thing. Moreover, where shotgun really helps you is if you have one-back and the other team wants to blitz up the middle -- either the back can get there or your line can slide protect and the back kick out the end man.

But with no back everyone protects inside out anyway, so you can still do some pretty good stuff from under center. (Plus you can throw 1-step "hot routes" to your slots, something more difficult to do from shotgun.)

But good points.

Anonymous said...


Have you got anything on stacking receivers? I wonder why we don't see teams run more stack. It is extremely hard to play man against two stacked receivers. If you stacked to both sides, the defense is just about forced to allocate six defenders to pass coverage on the four receivers leaving the offense to play 7 on 5 in the box.


Chris said...


I wrote an article about stacking receivers a really long time ago. (One issue with the old prohosting site is that images sometimes show up and sometimes don't; sorry if they don't show up.) It's not that great but it's something.

Anonymous said...

The parallels to today's spread really hit home when they sprung a QB draw a couple minutes into the clip.

Mr.Murder said...

" (One issue with the old prohosting site is that images sometimes show up and sometimes don't; sorry if they don't show up.) "
It's doing that to me now. ': (

Half the offense is the isolation set but you've put so many numbers to the other side it forces the defense to state what it will do even more.

Isolation stuff, always make the receiver right, always run to open space. Not unlike the threads you talk of choice routes or run and shoot stuff.

It's just that most of the route breaks occur on a vertical ladder in an iso set.
Most quicks from these other offenses occur closer to the line and have some horizontal/stem variety to them.

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