A hot new offensive craze is sweeping the nations' coaches, one that just might be the answer to all of our problems. The spread-option? That was sooooo 2003. If you've gotta have the latest and greatest offensive innovation, the one that will soon change the game of football, you've gotta have the A-11 Offense. [A hat tip to CaliforniaDave for finding this first and sending us a link].
ragnarok: What is this new fancy offense, and why should you care? Well, if you didn't bother to read their description or look at the picture above, the A-11 Offense is an offense where all 11 players on the field are potential eligible pass receivers. Whaaa? [Deadspin called it 'organized football's version of "Everyone just go long." '] Even more intriguing, the offense features two quarterbacks lined up simultaneously in the shotgun. Amazing!
Of course, when I read this, I immediately thought, "Gosh [yes, I say 'Gosh' when I think to myself], this could solve Cal's quarterback controversy! Since Tedford can't choose between Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley, maybe now he could simply play them both. We'd get the best of both worlds!' Sufficiently intrigued, I plunged into the depths of the internet, determined to learn more.
So where did this crazy idea come from? Not far from here, in fact. If Cal football had made you so morose that you turned to local high school football for entertainment, you might have caught the A-11's debut season. The masterminds behind this new offense are Kurt Bryan, the current head coach at Piedmont High School and assistant coach Steve Humphries. The two concocted this idea to level the playing field for their team. Piedmont is a relatively small school and has a much smaller talent pool to draw from than other high schools with thousands of kids. So while Piedmont was out-skilled in the past, now Piedmont out-schemes their opponents. With this new offense, Piedmont High finished the 2007 season with a 7-4 season and a 7 game win streak. Not bad. Not bad at all for a new offense's first year.
OK, but that doesn't really answer the burning question, does it? How can all 11 players potentially be eligible receivers? What about the offensive line? Aren't there rules against this thing? Well, yes and no. The A-11 found a clever exception in the rules, exploiting it as no one has ever thought to before. Here's an explanation of the offense:
The A-11's base formation features a center, two tight ends, two quarterbacks and six split ends — three on each side of the center. All players wear numbers that make them eligible pass receivers (1-49 and 80-99) as long as they're positioned at the end of the line or in the backfield.
What makes the offense legal is putting at least one of the quarterbacks 7 yards or more behind the line of scrimmage. As long as no one is in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap from the center, the alignment qualifies as a scrimmage-kick formation and normal numbering rules (a minimum of five players wearing numbers 50 through 79 on the line of scrimmage) don't apply.
For some video of the A-11 in action, lookie here.
So after watching the above video, what do you think of the A-11 offense? Yay? Nay? Good? Bad? Offense of the future? Or one hit wonder? What do you think, HydroTech?
*It spreads out the defense. One way to pacify dominant defensive players is to spread things out and force the defense to cover eligible receivers away from the ball. The A-11 does exactly this. If the defense has a dominant run-stopping linebacker, he's now probably going to be wading the hook zones (short middle zone area behind the DL) or deep tampa 2 areas (deep middle). If the defense has a dominant shutdown corner, he may be on the wrong side of the field if the offense's 5 receivers are on the other side (remember, even though all 11 players on offense are potential eligible receivers, only 5 may actually go down field to receive).
*Screen, screen, screen. With only three players to block pass rushers, pass rushers make their way to the QB fast. What better way to take advantage of this than screens. Let them big boys of the DL in close to the QB, then screen out to the trips WRs on either side of the offense (Piedmont's base offense puts 3 WRs on both sides of the offense).
*Surprise, surprise. Obviously, the biggest asset that the A-11 carries is that the defense doesn't really know who to cover since all the players can be eligible receivers.
*Absolutely wicked QB draws. QB draws in normal football formations have problems dealing with the DL and having a big enough hole to scamper through up the middle. But with the A-11 and the defense being spread out from sideline to sideline, QB draws become far deadlier. Could you imagine a QB like Dennis Dixon running the A-11?
*Tons of potential. This offense has tons of potential to become a new sort of shotgun ultra-spread option type of offense similar to West Virginia and (now) Michigan. With a QB (or two) in the shotgun you can execute zone reads, screens, and all sorts of plays that are in response to how the defense is lined up.
*Okay, so perhaps the A-11 isn't that hard to defend. When defending the pass, I would just stick with zone defenses since you can't play man coverage due to the fact that you don't know who is going to be running routes for a reception. Even though you don't know who is going downfield for a pass, you know your pass rush is going to get to the QB fast (since there are only 3 offensive players on the make-shift OL). With the pass rush getting to the QB fast he's going to have to scramble for his life or get rid of that ball. So although you may not know who is going down field for a pass, you know you probably won't have to cover those WRs for a long time. As for situations in which you're not sure if the offense will run or pass, use LBs as spys to watch the QB for scrambles, draws, or delayed handoffs.
*Spreads 'em out too much? Is there such a thing as spreading the defense out too much. One of the great things about passing out of run formation or using a QB boot out of a run formation is that the defense is tight in the box to play the run thus leaving plenty of space towards the sidelines for passes and scrambles. But with the A-11, the defense is spread sideline to sideline. QBs can't really boot wide with the safety of knowing a defender playing towards the sideline isn't going to blitz or at least won't be there to stop a QB scramble. Additionally, with the defense spread out, the ball carriers are going to get attacked by defenders from multiple angles.
*WRs must block - a lot. Not all of the 6 WRs are going to be going out for a pass. 1 or 2 will be blocking. But blocking who? If the offense runs a pass play, the WRs who aren't running routes can block pass rushers, or they just stand there so they don't get illegal man down field penalties. Either way, they are playing decoy or trying to do something they're not often very good at (blocking).
*QBs must run for their life. I've already said this before, but with only 3 offensive players forming a make-shift offensive line, the pass rush gets into the backfield fast. Often, the QB will be 7 yards deep (but not always) and with a narrow 3 man OL the offense gives up an easy penetrating outside pass rush. This is no offense for a slow QBs - Pat White and Dennis Dixon types definitely preferred.
*QB must throw well on the run. QBs are going to be dodging pass rushers left and right in this offense so they must throw well on the run
ragnarok: Well, I'm sufficiently intrigued. The offense is radically different enough that teams will have a very difficult time preparing for it, and I think Cal could pull a few upsets with it. We've got lots of team speed, and this 'two quarterbacks at once' idea might just be the solution we've been looking for to our QB quandary. Basically, it'd be like Archie, unable to choose between Betty and Veronica, instead deciding to have a threesome with both of them!
HydroTech: Well, we all know it's not gonna happen, but if JT decided to implement the A-11 with Cal's current personnel, here's what the starting lineup might look like:
QBs: Riley & Mansion - the A-11 needs mobile QBs and both fit the bill.
Center: Mack - I guess this is a no brainer. He'll block very well. I haven't seen him catch a pass but I imagine most CBs or even LBs won't exactly be looking forward to the task of tackling him. Alternatively, a TE could play this position. Their lighter weight should allow for more mobility on blocks and should provide more of a receiving threat.
TEs: Curran & Miller - both have the size to block and could be decent receiving threats.
WRs: Best, Ladner, Ross, Morrah, Calvin, & Boateng. Best is too good to leave off the field. He'd be a great scatback in this offense. Ladner could provide some great blocking and could be a great jump-ball receiver. Imagine the mis-match of a CB covering (6'7") Ladner. Ross has the ability to play WR and can provide some elusiveness on screens. Morrah brings height and jump ball ability towards the sideline. Calvin is too good to not be on the field. He'll be the pure WR threat. Boateng is the wildcard of the bunch and brings speed and elusiveness to the field for deep balls.
ragnarok: Well, that gets two QBs on the field, but neither one of them is Longshore. I guess that makes sense. In an offense which disdains the very idea of a 'pocket', the notion of a 'pocket passer' is pretty much untenable.
Which then leaves us with this question: if the A-11 becomes truly popular and sweeps across the country's high schools, what are the nation's 6' 5", 230 lb. white guys with strong arms going to do? Play baseball?
HydroTech: OK, so I know you just explained above how this offense is actually legal, but how come nobody thought of it before? I'm still highly suspicious -- prove to me that it's legal.
ragnarok: Well, the offense works by exploiting the scrimmage kick formation. Normally, teams have to have 5 linemen on the field, who by their position and their uniform number are ineligible receivers, but this requirement is waived for scrimmage kicks.
ARTICLE 2. a. All players shall be numbered 1 through 99. Any number preceded by zero ("0'') is illegal [S23].
b. On a scrimmage down, at least five offensive players on the scrimmage line shall be numbered 50 through 79 (Exception: During a scrimmage kick formation, a player, who by his initial position on the line of scrimmage, is an exception to the 50-79 mandatory numbering, remains an ineligible receiver during the down until a legal forward pass is touched by a Team B player or an official. He must be positioned on the line of scrimmage and between the end players on the line of scrimmage. The ineligible receivers (interior linemen) are identified when the snapper assumes his position and touches or simulates (hand[s] at or below his knees) touching the ball. A player remains an ineligible receiver and is an exception to the 50-79 mandatory numbering until the down is over, a timeout is charged to a team or the referee, or a period ends.) (A.R. 1-4-2-I, IV and V) [S19].
So what's a scrimmage kick anyway?
Rule 2-15-10: Scrimmage Kick Formation
ARTICLE 10. A scrimmage kick formation is a formation with at least one player seven yards or more behind the neutral zone, no player in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap from between the snapper's legs, and it is obvious that a kick may be attempted (A.R. 1-4-2-I and A.R. 9-1-2-XXIIXXIV)
Though it must be possible for a kick to be attempted, it is not necessary to actually kick the ball. A pass to an eligible receiver is a perfectly legal play, as demonstrated by the associated approved ruling for Rule 1-4-2:
Approved Ruling 1-4-2
I. Team A, with fourth and eight, sends two substitutes numbered 21 and 33 into the game as exceptions to the mandatory numbering, and they are positioned legally on their line of scrimmage between the end players on the line of scrimmage. After the ball is snapped, a Team A player, 15 yards deep in a scrimmage kick formation, throws a legal forward pass to an eligible receiver for a 10-yard gain. RULING: Legal play (Note: The same play from a field goal formation is legal).
Basically, it's like faking a punt on every single play.
HydroTech: Huh, well I guess that works, then. But wait! This article quotes a high school ref who claims it isn't legal in the NCAA. Basically, he's saying that there's added language which makes the formation illegal. Go back to the scrimmage kick formation rule, where it says:
A scrimmage kick formation is a formation with at least one player seven yards or more behind the neutral zone, no player in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap from between the snapper's legs, and it is obvious that a kick may be attempted.
He said because of that phrase, the A-11 is illegal because it's not obvious that a kick is being attempted. But I suppose the A-11 is legal on 4th downs when a true punt might be attempted.
Ragnarok: OK, I see what you're talking about. The rule, as written, seems a bit ambiguous, but I think you're right: for the most part, this offense would be illegal in the NCAA.
Also, I tried to download a PDF of the high school football rules for comparison, but the NFHS won't let anyone but registered officials and coaches download it. Not sure why the secrecy.
HydroTech: Yes, I think we're right. The A-11 isn't legal in the NCAA except for possibly on 4th downs. But then again...this phrase:
and it is obvious that a kick may be attempted
can be open to many different interpretations. In an A-11 play, a kick is ALWAYS possible and can be attempted. But we all know that a team isn't going to kick on 1st down, or 2nd down. Perhaps a 0.001% chance on 3rd down, and maybe a 20% chance on 4th down depending on down and distance. So perhaps the A-11 is okay on 4th down.
But see, the above analysis is based on team's go-for-it or punt tendency. I think the rule is meant to be interpreted from the team's formation and personnel on the field - although admittedly it does not say that. If a team doesn't have a punter or some other player who is known to punt (such as a WR who also doubles as a punter) on the field, then i think it's quite obvious that a kick WON'T be attempted, thus the A-11 play is illegal.
Currently, I think the A-11 falls into a fairly gray area. The language of the NCAA rule book suggests that the offense is illegal for the most part, although coaches might be able to argue it permissible on 4th downs and perhaps on other downs if the offense actually puts a player who is known to kick onto the field.
Supposedly, Florida and San Jose State ran A-11 plays last year (some sports writer wrote this in an article which I cannot re-find). San Jose State supposedly ran some A-11 plays against Stanfurd. But because San Jose State and Stanfurd suck so much, I couldn't find a torrent of the game to download and watch. Florida, on the other hand, supposedly ran an A-11 play against LSU. Thanks to the masses of SEC fans who do nothing but drink beer, watch football, and download torrents of football games, I was able to obtain a copy of the game. So, I downloaded the Florida/LSU game and looked at the play. It was not an A-11 play. Here's the pre-snap picture below:
Note that this is NOT an A-11 play. How do we know? This play doesn't qualify as a scrimmage kick formation because nobody is at least 7 yards behind the neutral zone. The Florida QB, Tim Tebow, is 5 yards behind the center. Even if Tebow was 7 yards behind the neutral zone, it is quite obvious that a kick is NOT being attempted due to the fact that Tebow usually passes or QB-draws, Tebow has never punted, and Florida doesn't even have a punter on the field. It's also 1st and 10! Who punts on first and 10?!?!
ragnarok: Yeah, this formation is just confusing. Tebow probably looked at it in the playbook and wondered 'what's my offensive line doing way over there?' I'm wondering the same thing, actually. What is the point of this play?
HydroTech: Well, let's watch the rest of it and find out. Below is the post-snap picture. Quick! Which 5 players are the eligible receivers?!?!?!
The two split end WRs nearest the sidelines on both sides of the field, and the three flanker WRs off the LOS!
Oh noes! The LSU pass rush is unabated towards the QB because there was only one OL blocking for Tebow! Tebow must act quickly to get rid of the ball but his WRs have barely made it down field!
Urban Meyer: For the love of God, Tim Tebow, do something!
Tim Tebow: I shall run!
B-button! (for the xbox users)
Circle-button! (for the ps3 users)
[For those of you that have yet to experience the utter joy of wasting one's time on a gaming counsel, Tim Tebow did a spin]
Tim Tebow: Dammit! I thought my break tackle rating in NCAA Football 2009 was 91! I've been misled!
ragnarok: So, uh, this play failed spectacularly. Huh, I guess we'll never know what this play was trying to accomplish. In any case, it wasn't an A-11 play, which while a fun concept, doesn't appear to be legal at the NCAA level. I kinda think that's too bad. Part of the fun of college football vs. the NFL is all the crazy offenses teams use to try and level the playing field, and I say the more crazy offenses, the better!