Friday, October 22, 2010

Football as Art

I have seen the light.

It is the spread and shred offense, and is shines brightly from Eugene Oregon casting it's divine beauty across the college football world.

It is the middle of the fourth quarter, and Chip Kelly's squad is winding down the latest clubbing, this time of UCLA.  Now this isn't a huge accomplishment (unless you're Texas.  ZING.) because UCLA really isn't a good team.  They have little to no pass offense   118th in the nation at 95 yards per game   and rely on runs out of the pistol formation for the majority of their offense.  Hell, even their defense is decidedly worse than average.

Yet, the beauty of the Oregon attack is independent of the opponent because Oregon's offense operates at such a high level that the other eleven players on the field hardly matter.  They move up and down the field like ghosts.  Never a play for loss, never a bad read, and rarely a dropped pass.  They simply execute on a level that seems almost above what humanity is capable of.  Their current drive chart features eleven drives that read like this:  TD, TD, TD, TD, FG, TD, turnover on downs, TD, TD, punt, TD.

Eight touchdowns.  Eleven drives.  Rick Neuheisel must have pinched himself at the end of the first half when the Oregon offense was held to a measly three points.  What luck!  They left four points on the field.  If you counted all the plays that Oregon ran unsuccessfully during the course of this game, I would guarantee that a full 25% of them came on the final three plays of the first half that preceded the FG.  An incomplete pass, a LaMichael James slip in the backfield, and a dropped pass on what was a sure touchdown.  In the second half Oregon almost scored an additional touchdown, but failed a 4th down conversion.  Then midway through the fourth, with the game well in hand, Oregon punted the ball away for the first and only time.

They say, "sometimes when you're on, you're on," but that seems insufficient to describe what I am watching unfold in Autzen stadium.  When this team isn't on it is their own lack of execution.  But when they're on?

TD, TD, TD, TD, FG, TD, Turnover on downs, TD, TD, punt, TD.

That is a 72% scoring rate.  Beautiful.

This is the dream.  This is the beauty of the spread offense that coaches like Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez run.  If everyone is on the same page there is nothing a defense can do but sit back and wait for the inevitable flood of soul-crushing touchdown drives.  The spread offense doesn't attack a defense as much as it attacks where a defense isn't.  A spread offense preys on space, on creases, on hitting you in the very place you just vacated because you are reacting to the last play that torched you for a touchdown.  The spread offense, when run right, literally cannot be stopped for the simple reason that when it is run right it explicitly keeps the ball away from anyone who is in a position to stop it.

Keep your DE home on a zone read play and the running back hits the crease for eight yards.  Crash down on the zone read and the quarterback shoots through the vacated hole for twelve yards.  Send a safety or a linebacker and the quarterback throws the bubble screen to an open slot receiver with nothing but a one-on-one block and grass in front of him.  Finally, once you are frustrated with all of that, tired of the precise handoffs, keepers, and passes, then you open yourself up for an easy completion on a seam route that you never saw coming.

Defenses cannot cover everyone.  There is too much football field and too many options.  Good defenses keep everything contained.  Great defenses not only contain but attack and frustrate.  Neither can hold up against a spread offense when everything is clicking.  The offense will go over, around, or through you before you even know what happened.  Great defenses attack the ball, but great spread and shred offenses react too quickly for these attacks.  The ball is out to a running back or slot receiver before you even touch the quarterback.

What Oregon has done all season is nothing short of amazing.  Through seven games Oregon has yet to put up less than 42 points.  Six touchdowns a game.  Five-hundred and sixty seven yards per game.  Third nationally in rush yards.  Thirty-forth in passing yards.  This offense isn't automatic, it is robotic, performing its duties like a computer blazing through millions of computations in a second.

Lately we marvel at the production of Michigan's offense.  Even in a loss to one of the best defenses in the country the offense unleashed 522 yards.  Yet the cold calculated efficiency is still not there.  The penalties, the turnovers, the blown assignments.  This offense is still in its infancy at Michigan.  Just three years old, led by a sophomore quarterback with a handful of starts under his belt, and a team that returns almost entirely intact next year.

It isn't greedy to expect more from this offense.  I have been to the mountain top, seen what the spread is capable of when run as close to perfection as a group of eleven individuals is capable of.  Watching Oregon tonight it becomes clear that there is no answer for the spread.  You're best chance is to slow it and hope it stops itself.  I have written about the way defenses adjust to Denard Robinson, but I have yet to see anyone truly stop him, just as I have yet to see anyone truly stop this offense.  If run correctly there is no reason that the spread and shred offense should not score every single time, and Oregon proves that.  It comes down to execution, a skill that the Michigan offense has yet to truly master.

But when that day comes...

 ...the defense better pray for field goals.


  1. Goud gaud, I just doughnt no know any moor. Did you gradeate from Michigen? Chek the speling of yore blaug's tightel.

  2. Good point, although there's no need to celebrate it. Judgment has always been a word that tripped me up and failed to notice the superfluous E due to overexposure. Thank you for the correction.

  3. Zach I tried to do it in a humorous way; the fact that you left the posting up (didn't delete) is much more telling about your character and regard for the truth than some minor spelling error. You have won a loyal reader

  4. I'm not one for censoring voices, even when they make me look a little foolish. I do my best to proofread everything on this site, but sometimes I make mistakes. I'm confident in my writing, but I realize I am hardly perfect, and the only way I will learn is by making mistakes and being corrected. I'm glad to have won a reader and I hope you won't hesitate to point out any big errors (even if I do get a tad sensitive about it sometimes). Thank you.

  5. I didn't think it through: maybe changing the spelling of your title might affect your "brand" , in that people who have bookmarked it, or written down the cite for the site, now might not get to it? (Reflects my ignorance of things tech)

  6. Brand? Ha. You seriously overestimate the amount of traffic this blog gets. I can't change the URL anyway, so the address is doomed to forever be the 17th century British spelling of judgment. So it goes.