Offensive Success: Execution, Playbook Size or Scheme?

It seems like we've been having the "scheme vs. execution" discussion here quite a bit recently, and I came across this on a interview with on the Cal Rivals page:

BT: Aside from the noted pace of Oregon’s offense, what else is so innovative about Chip Kelley’s scheme?

AJ: It’s actually pretty simple with a relatively small playbook. He preaches precision and getting the plays they do run just right.

To me, this seems to be the key to success in college football. As Avinash has already pointed out, these players are student-athletes and they aren't professionals who can spend the majority of their time watching tape, studying the playbook, conditioning, training, etc.

It seems to me like Tedford's earlier teams had simpler playbooks and focused on execution more than scheme. The talent level was probably equal to or perhaps even less than what we have today, yet the 2004 and 2006 teams were very successful. With a bunch of 19 to 22 year olds out there, it makes a lot of sense to coach players to do a few things and do them well. Run block. Pass block. Pick up the blitz. Nothing is more demoralizing for an opposing team than to know what is coming and feeling helpless at stopping it (see Cal at Oregon, 2009 or Cal at Nevada, 2010).

If you look at what the Ducks are doing and what Nevada is doing with the pistol, you see teams that use a relatively small-ish playbook, but execute very, very well through repetition, precision and an understanding of what can happen with each offensive play.

Avinash again:

But wouldn't you agree we've been trying to execute a huge playbook with mediocre players and this causes even more execution issues? Shouldn't we be focusing on a smaller playbook that allows us to focus on technique rather than scheme so that they at least play hard enough to out-execute other opponents, based on the relative weakness of our offensive line and receivers?

I've seen this disconnect the past three/four years on offense. Tedford made the playbook too huge and our O-line played worse and worse. Cignetti simplified things down, but our offense lost too many players for them to be good at anything but running. Ludwig seems to be too much focused on scheme and there isn't enough good technique against good opponents (lots of plays, mediocre execution on all of them). 

Simplify things a little: Is the offense too complex?

I think that's the beauty of the spread-option type offenses, because the same play can have multiple different endings (hand-off, QB keep, pass). And because these 19 to 22 year olds might have problems playing disciplined defense, these offenses can thrive in the college ranks.

Now  with a pro-style offense, you can't just use a bread and butter staple of 10 to 15 plays since defenses will easily figure them out and how to stop them. But with a spread-option offense those 10 to 15 plays all of a sudden seem to be 30 to 45 different plays and the beauty of plays like the zone read is that the outcome of the play depends on the mistake that the defense has made. And undisciplined defenses can make a lot of mistakes (see Cal at Nevada, 2010).

I'm not advocating that we move towards a spread-option type offense, but perhaps what Tedford and Ludwig need to do is find a way to simplify the offensive playbook, focus on execution rather than scheme and find an innovative way to incorporate a wrinkle or two that takes advantage of the undisciplined nature of 19 to 22 year olds playing defense. It seems that some of the recent offensive innovations in college football (spread-option, wildcat formation, pistol) are built around deception and making a defense pay for being undisciplined. The thing about the wildcat and the pistol is that every play looks almost exactly the same and the defense has to guess right and/or play very disciplined defense to stop them. Thoughts?

The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.

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