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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spread offense falling out of favor in Big 12

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing was under pressure in the first half  of the Kansas and Kansas State game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 in Manhattan.

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing was under pressure in the first half of the Kansas and Kansas State game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 in Manhattan.

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KU football facing late-season hurdles

Kansas football is stuck in one of its most sub-par stretches of the past few years.

It started, like these things typically do, slowly and discretely.

Teams called for a few fewer passing plays per game. A fourth receiver was pulled in favor of an extra tight end. An I-back here, a few bunch formations there. All minor things, maybe not even detectable to the average fan.

But before long, the Big 12 Conference — the unofficial capital of the spread offense — had begun to look less and less spread-like. And while it might be too early to engrave the tombstone, there clearly has been, at least in Kansas University coach Mark Mangino’s eyes, a conscious shift away from the spread packages that so thoroughly have dominated the conference in recent years.

“This is just an observation. I can’t tell you that I have any facts behind it,” Mangino said Tuesday during his weekly meeting with the media. “But more and more teams in our conference are slowly but surely fading out of the spread offense.”

A glance at some of the box scores throughout the conference this season certainly would support the theory. The Big 12’s top six scoring offenses in 2008 — Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska — are all averaging fewer points per game than they did a season ago.

Last week, an Oklahoma team that scored 60 or more points in five consecutive games in 2008 managed a single field goal in a 10-3 loss to Nebraska, while the number of Big 12 teams ranked among the top 15 passing offenses in the nation a season ago (six) has been cut in half this fall.

Some of this, of course, can be attributed to personnel issues. Three of the aforementioned teams are breaking in new starting quarterbacks this season, while others, like Oklahoma, have been forced to deal with injuries to prominent offensive players.

Even so, it’s hard to watch Big 12 football this season and not notice the changes, minor as they may be.

This was evident enough in the Jayhawks’ 17-10 loss to Kansas State last week, when the Big 12 North-leading Wildcats, who possessed the nation’s 19th-best passing attack a year ago, threw for just 66 yards, completed just one pass for one yard in the second half and still won by a touchdown thanks to an opportunistic defense and a running game that racked up 266 yards to keep the chains (and the clock) moving.

That offenses apparently have begun to evolve comes as no surprise to Mangino, who, in the past two years, regularly has insisted that college football is cyclical and that it was only a matter of time before the spread — like all the popular packages before it — would fall victim to the schemes of always-tinkering defensive coordinators.

The swiftness with which things have begun to change, however, has come as a shock to more than a few of the conference’s coaches.

“I never saw it coming (so soon), I’ll tell you that,” said KU cornerbacks coach Je’Ney Jackson. “... I never would have guessed that. No one would have guessed it. A lot of people are just trying to run it and pound it and keep the ball in their hands as long as possible. Looking at the trend from the last couple years, everyone was just going to throw it 50 times a game.”

Explanations for the shift are numerous: Coaches desire to control the clock with a sufficient run game; a high-powered and quick-scoring offenses force a team’s defense to spend more time on the field.

And maybe, in the opinion of KU offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, defenses finally are beginning to crack the spread’s code.

Using the NFL as a point of reference, Warinner says, colleges coaches have adapted to the spread’s success by incorporating a more aggressive style. More blitzes, for one, and perhaps most notably, more use of man-to-man coverage — a strategy that makes defenses susceptible to the run but has also proven to make life less enjoyable for quarterbacks.

“It’s more effective against pass offenses, because you have less space to throw,” Warinner said of man coverage. “You can get guys open, but instead of being open by three yards, you’re open by one feet or two feet. So the accuracy of the throw and the pass rush and the quarterback having to find a little window to throw make it a little more difficult.”

All of this is not to say, of course, that the days of spread-heavy offenses are numbered.

Nearly every Big 12 team currently contains some aspect of the spread — most rely on it heavily — and while passing production may have dipped a bit, the Big 12, statistically speaking, still holds the distinction of the nation’s most pass-happy conference.

“I know I worry about it every week,” Jackson said. “And I know I’m not the only one in this league that does.”

Kansas, for its part, is still throwing the ball plenty — 41 times per game, to be exact, including 54 against Colorado. Coaches have looked at their personnel — at quarterback Todd Reesing and receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier — and decided that the spread, for the time being, is the most effective way to score points.

But as they said Tuesday, that could change.

“We’re sticking with what we’re doing right now, but I think that football is an ever-changing deal,” Warinner said. “And you have to stay one step ahead.”

Having coached nearly 25 years of college football, Mangino likes to say that there aren’t many things that surprise him. Football goes in cycles. Things ebb and flow. Offenses evolve and devolve. The same things that were tossed in the junk pile years ago — like the now (nearly) defunct wishbone of the 1970s and 80s — could come roaring back at any moment.

“It’s like old clothes,” he said. “Hold on to them; they’ll come back in style.”

Comments

FlaHawk 12 years, 10 months ago

KU lacks the personel to say nothing of the depth to run anything but the spread! They could not change, if they wanted to at this time.

It will be intersting to see what KU runs next year. Don't know much about Pick, but suspect he is more of a runner like Meier than a scrambler/thrower like Reesing!

Brad Avery 12 years, 10 months ago

Nonsense. The spread offense would be well complimented by an occasional "bone" look with Pick, Opurum, Sharp and Lewis in the backfield.

Robert Brock 12 years, 10 months ago

It would be helpful if KU developed an offensive line that was capable of run-blocking.

Andy Tweedy 12 years, 10 months ago

Amen, Brock! The line sucks this year...at least they're young, hopefully they'll get better by next August.

meatsauce 12 years, 10 months ago

Suh is coming..................and he's not happy. (cue the music from Jaws)

Dyrk Dugan 12 years, 10 months ago

offenses....and defenses too....are all about personnel. and the fitting of that personnel to the scheme.

KSU can't run the spread....they don't have the quarterback for it....and probably not enough quality wide outs.

KU, this is truly the only offense we can run with Todd. He couldn't be a pro style set QB...with a lot of pocket passes.

now next year, i doubt if we run this same type of offense. Unless of course, Pick can't win the QB job. If Pick is the man, then you'll see a different offense. a lot more option....more bootlegs.....it won't be the same as the last three years.

OU ran the wishbone more or less for almost 20 years...and won a ton of league titles and a few national titles with it. and Florida has done pretty well, with their version of the spread. it's all about personnel, development and fitting your players in a system. it doesn't really matter what the system is.

sdoyel 12 years, 10 months ago

Teams are defending us well because we've turned 1-dimensional.... We are Texas Tech Lite this season.

Alan Halvorsen 12 years, 10 months ago

Look for KU to run a similar offense to what Texas runs with Colt McCoy, that is, if Pick is our guy. He is physically similar to McCoy, obviously doesn't have the intangibles yet. But in terms of height, weight, speed, arm strength. Kale is a Kansas Colt McCoy. Option, Screens, P.A., Deep Passes, Scrambling. It's important the line plays good next year, to give Kale the confidence that McCoy has enjoyed the last several years.

Rivethead 12 years, 10 months ago

Meatsauce.....the reason Suh is not happy is that he wrapped his Land Rover (how does a college kid afford that?) around three cars at 2:30am on a Sunday morning.

That's gotta suck.

Hawkman_021 12 years, 10 months ago

Hey Rivethead i believe they said during the OU game that his father owns a construction company back home, i looked it up and the car is owned by his mother. I see us winning 24-13 Rock Chalk Jayhawk

NebraskaJayhawk 12 years, 10 months ago

Please beat Nebraska. I don't care how you get it done....

jahawkdave 12 years, 10 months ago

-Jimmy_Dean- "if Pick is our guy"

That is the question I have, is Pick our guy? I sure hope so, the little of him I've seen I have liked. However, it makes me nervous to have a number 1 QB that is hampered by a groin injury and playing so poorly and why we aren't seeing more playing time for our number 2 Pick.

Is it because an injured, turnover prone, slumping Ressing is still better than Pick? (I hope thats not the case) Is it because Mangino feels he owes it to Reesing to let him play out of this or finish his career as a starter because of the wonderful career he has had, up until the CU game of this year?

This team needs a spark and the guy who used to provide it is unfortunately one of the positions bringing us down. If we start slow against NU, lets see if Pick can be a spark and hopefully he can prove he is the future No. 1, this year or next.

I have enjoyed watching Reesing and the brilliant and gutsy performances he has had for KU, it's hard watching him and the other seniors go out like this. I hope they can turn it around. If not it's time to start letting Pick prove himself.

The Spread is Dead!

mondhawk 12 years, 10 months ago

reesings is making too many misyakes time to play QB musical chairs like the Mangino of old lets go Pick

theprogram 12 years, 10 months ago

Todd Reesing is in my econ class and he said that he is so mad at Mangino he is going to quick kick on 3rd down on the 1st possesion. Maybe he had to many lattes for breakfast, but he sure seemed serious.

troutsee 12 years, 10 months ago

I have been telling my friends for weeks that Mangino has not connected with this 2009 version of the Hawks. After their performance against KSU, I wonder if he has lost them completely.

focojayhawk 12 years, 10 months ago

troutsee, I have been thinking that for a while now, but you are the first person I have seen on here say that. I feel the same. With all the switching and the lack of success in the past few weeks, and from what I have heard in Lawrence, I really wonder what the coach/player relationship is like this season.

Either way, I still love these guys. Todd Reesing still has given me some of my biggest enjoyments as a KU fan and I am 100 percent behind them the next few games! Go Hawks!

Dirk Medema 12 years, 10 months ago

"Todd ... is so mad at Mangino he is going to quick kick on 3rd down on the 1st possesion."

That might be the best thing for all. It is hard to imagine any player singlehandedly causing a team to implode more than the 10 TO's have the last few weeks. My guess is that Coach would just tell his captain to take his hat to the lockerroom. It would definitely make the QB decision a lot easier.

That is not an endorsement of Coach's handling of players. Todd is a leader of the team, and as such deserves to be spoken to personally about his play. Magino instead blew it off.

My hope is that Mangino can learn from this situation as well. After the verbal assault on the PR guy (and Youtube mania) a couple years ago, he seemed to learn to walk over to his player (Talib) and teach him what is right & wrong by speaking to him (Orange Bowl), though apparently not well enough to talk to Tood.

Someone commented early last year about overhearing the father of a Sr FB player saying that he was frustrated with the coaches, and just ready to leave. Not an encouraging trend now or wrt recruiting in the long run - regardless of how well you can evaluate hidden talent. Evaluate all you want, but you still need to relate well.

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