Recently, football fans on all levels have seen a change in their favorite past time. The officiating has become more stringent, in an effort to increase player safety, and some would argue that this has changed the game completely. The increase in awareness regarding the effects of concussions have prompted football governing bodies to change this game in ways that fans have not seen since, perhaps, face masks were attached to helmets. Why has there been a need for such a change?
Football has always been adapting and changing in order to protect players and to make the game more entertaining. But let’s not fool ourselves, football has also never given way the ferocity of competition for the pleasure of entertainment. Players and coaches are often willing to do anything they can to win. Occasionally, we have seen teams resort to things outside of the regulations of the sport in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.
The forward pass was introduced to the game in 1906, but it took some programs and until the 1960’s and 1970’s to begin to accept it as a common part of their offensive game plan. When the forward pass was first adapted, not many would have envisioned a game like we see today. We can thank the forward pass and then the ever popular spread offense. The first program to spread the offense out and actually begin to use the entire field was coached by Rusty Russell at Fort Worth’s Masonic Home and School. Russell did what so many are attempting to do today, he used the space on the field to make up for lack of size and speed. Unfortunately for defenses today, teams with extraordinary talent, size and speed are using the spread, which has led to the astronomical offensive outputs we see today.
Steve Spurrier perpetuated the advancement of the spread offense with his version of the Run and Shoot at Florida. Spurrier’s game plan was to allow his quarterback to make the correct reads and dictate the pace of the game. By controlling the pace of the game and scoring many points quickly, the Gator offense was able to force opposing SEC teams out of their comfort zone. When the opposition found themselves in a great deficit to the Gator offense, they were forced to throw the ball more, which was often times something other SEC schools were not built to do.
Looking further into the development of the game, we again turn our heads to the University of Florida, this time under the leadership of coach Urban Meyer. Meyer was another disciple of the spread offense, as his coaching genius elevated the game to yet another level. With two outstanding quarterbacks, the Gators were the first team to effectively use a Wildcat style offense, with Tim Tebow and Chris Leak. The Gators won a National Championship using the run option, the jump pass and any other way possible to get their top athletes on the field. We also saw another SEC school using a version of the Wildcat when Auburn’s backfield featured Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. Again, the prevailing theme is getting the best players on the field together to optimize the offensive potential.
What can we expect in the future? Will offenses continue to dominate the game of college football? I believe I have seen one shift in some of the programs around the country, like Ohio State. The Buckeyes are very effectively using starting players on all of their special teams units. Again, the theme is to get the best talent on the field as often as possible, and give them the opportunities to make plays.
So what can defenses do? The best bet for a defensive coordinator is to not attempt to out-coach the offensive opponent on the field on Saturdays. Yes, the defense should be vigorously coached throughout out the week, but when it comes time for the game, the best recipe for success will be allowing players to react and use their talents on defense, much like the offenses have been doing for years. Also, fans can expect to see defenses to continue to switch to 3-4 defenses and implement the use of a nickel formation more frequently.