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Is Coach Tedford's Offense Too Complex? (Part 3)

I've got my playcard.  You've got yours.  Make a move, hombre.
I've got my playcard. You've got yours. Make a move, hombre.

We continue to try to hold off our Cal football withdrawal with a further look at Coach Jeff Tedford's offense. In Part One, we looked at the number of pages in his playbook and examined the details of one of the plays itself. In Part Two, we examined the rumor that his offense is more complex than some NFL offenses.

Question #4: Are pro-style offenses like Tedford's too complex for the college game? Why doesn't Cal go to something simpler to learn, easier to recruit for, and more "modern" like a spread attack?

First of all, not all spread and pro-style offenses are created equal.

Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense only has 9-12 passing plays, but the quarterback has the ability to check to any one of them at any given time.

More important than the playbook itself, however, is how Texas Tech works on their execution.

"Although not as structured, it is impressive to watch Texas Tech practice and you quickly see why it is so successful. The ball is always in the air and what the Red Raiders practice is what you see them do in a game. They work on every phase of their package every day and in most passing drills, there are four quarterbacks throwing and every eligible receiver catching on each snap.

There is great detail given to fundamentals in all phases of the passing game. Wide receivers, for example, work every day on releases versus different coverages, ball security, scrambling drills, blocking and routes versus specific coverages."

But wait, spread offenses are more simple, right? Take a look at this transcript of Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert as he discusses how he had to change his reads in the Tigers come-back against the SDSU Aztecs. Arguably, all the checks and reads are just as complex if not more so than any pro-style attack.

Gabbert: No, they just kept lining up in this flat coverage and showing the blitz. I'd have to slide the line into a gap over-protection. They started to give it away in these situations because they had to get back because we were going to win the football game.

Moe: It took us a while to figure it out, though. Because early on, they'd back out and we had already checked the play. And then you just have a 6-yard route.

Gabbert: Since they're in a no-deep coverage, I've got to change the play and move the line into a gap over-protection and slide it because they're bringing six and we only have five to block.

Matter: So, you're sliding the line to your left?

Gabbert: Yeah, their right defensive end will be blocked, and their end to the field side will be free because we slid the line left.

Matter: Ideally, if what happened didn't happen, your first reads are all on the right side?

Gabbert: To the field, yes. Michael to Wes to Brandon.

On the other hand, Steve Sarkisian's pro-style offense with Jake Locker as the quarterback relied almost exclusively on a "one-read and run" series of plays.

This is a common theme in the Washington offense: giving the quarterback quick, single reads and if that read doesn't work out, tuck the ball and run. But the downside of this system is that Locker tends to rush through the play like a child that is asked to read a book aloud but in his attempt to impress, reads the words too fast and without meaning.

As to the notion that the pro-style offense is out-dated, what about Alabama's 2010 national championship, Stanfurd's success under Jim Harbaugh, and USC's run under Pete Carroll? If not for a toe on a sideline or a whiner from Texas, wouldn't we be talking about Tedford's pro-style offense in two Rose Bowls?

So which is the better offense?

Last year, Cal's defense played very well against Oregon's spread attack, but we were absolutely steam-rolled by 'sc's and Stanfurd's pro-style attacks. Cali49a breaks it down very well here:

"With different combinations of personnel, Furd and SC showed more formations and there was much more to prepare for. Throw in some different looks not shown on tape and it can throw a defense off. I broke down the Oregon game and they used the same personnel 98.9% of the time against Cal. The risk of confusion and thinking on the defensive side of the ball drops when a team does not have to scramble to adjust to offensive substitutions."

Interestingly enough, predicts that "the spread and pro-style offenses will learn to coexist."

College offenses constantly go in and out of vogue, which means the spread-offense craze is bound to plateau (if it hasn't already). [Ed Note: Yes it has, if the goal is to give underdogs a better chance.] Last season, the spread still thrived for teams like Pac-10 champion Oregon, Big East champion Cincinnati and 13-1 Florida. However, Alabama won the national championship with a more traditional, pro-style offense, Stanford defied the trend of recent upstarts by utilizing an old-school, smash-mouth offense and Nebraska's disruptive defense showed it's possible to shut down a wide-open attack like Texas'.

So will the recent influx of NFL-influenced coaches like Washington's Steve Sarkisian and USC's Kiffin kill the spread? Not exactly. Spread gurus like Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen keep importing it at new locations, and Arizona State's Dennis Erickson - a veteran of both levels - is one of several coaches implementing a version of former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's Air Raid attack this season.

Instead, the future is likely a hybrid of both systems.

"The great thing would be the combination of both - spread it out and throw it, then be able to do it with two tight ends and run the ball with some power," said Erickson. "It's just the evolution of football. I really believe if you can have a combination of all that stuff and confuse [defenses] with different personnel groups, that's what it's all about."

Anyone remember a certain pro-style coach bringing in a spread-guru for his offensive coordinator to see if he could create a hybrid attack? (Tedspread, 2006) As former special teams assistant and hydrotech, MrBearister alluded to, whatever we've thought or dreamed up for the Cal offense, Coach Tedford has already had that thought.

"If a fan thinks that they know something that Coach Tedford or anyone on the coaching staff doesn't, they're fooling themselves. Every thought about who should QB, which play should be called, etc. etc... Coach Tedford has already had the thought. He and his staff are the one's that watch every play, make every move.. that's why they get paid. Some fans think that utilization of certain players, or situations aren't taken, and that might be true. But people need to realize, this is Tedford's team. His philosophies and decisions have brought the program to a high level. Having growing pains now is hard for many to deal with and you can tell that in his recent off-season staff changes, he understands the need for change to further improve. Those changes, I guarantee you we NOT because he "listened to the fans."

Summary: I think the importance of the type of offense a team runs is overblown. Instead of switching to the spread, or the pistol, or the latest flavor of the month, or trying to do a little of everything, I think that having the right personnel who can execute their system is more important. I know. It's a staggering revelation. (Note: Standard disclaimer about me not being an expert) And clearly, having pro-level talent at key positions, especially at quarterback, is bound to make any offense look better.