Brian Kelly will try to implement the full extent of his high-speed spread offense at Notre Dame in 2012. It can work, but only if Kelly gets complete and total commitment from all of his players.
In the first two installments of this series (which can be found here and here), we've established the level of success that is possible with an uptempo spread offense, but we're still left with the formality of implementation.
It seems so simple. Just pick up the pace.
So, why doesn't everybody do it?
Actually executing it is hard.
Hard, but possible.
Here's how it can happen.
In a sped-up system, decisions must be made quickly. Sure, this applies to the players on the field, but before that even happens, the coaching staff must make quick decisions about which players will be on the field.
When an offense depends so much on reads and sight adjustments, chemistry is amplified. It is incredibly important that every player on the offense sees the field within the same mental framework.
That requires solid teaching from the coaching staff, but more importantly, it requires repetition. Repetition requires consistency; it requires the same players practicing together for as long as possible.
That can't happen until the starters are in place.
There are only a few position battles remaining on the Notre Dame offense. One or two spots on the offensive line will be up for grabs, as well as Michael Floyd's spot on the outside, but at running back (Cierre Wood), tight end (Tyler Eifert) and the other two receiver spots (Robby Toma in the slot and T.J. Jones on the outside), things are pretty much set.
The only gaping hole that remains is at quarterback. There are plenty of options, but at this point, the leading candidate is anyone's guess.
Of the three capable contenders, only Andrew Hendrix has taken the field in a college football game. He showed great potential in limited action last season, but still looks raw.
Everett Golson has a sky-high ceiling, but as a player who came out of high school with the "athlete" label from recruiting services, he's got something to prove as a pure passer.
Gunner Kiel has a great passing pedigree and is already on campus, but there's no guarantee that he'll be able to absorb this offense right away.
Regardless of who ends up as the starter, Kelly needs to make his decision soon. The eventual starting quarterback is going to need as many practice reps as possible.
If this offense is going to work, Kelly must name a starting quarterback by the end of the Blue and Gold game.
As anyone who's seen one of his red-faced rants can attest, Brian Kelly doesn't take kindly to imperfection. There's nothing inherently wrong with demanding perfection from players who are clearly capable of a high level of play, but at this early stage, Kelly needs to give his guys some rope.
This system will not work if his team plays scared.
That kind of attitude is part of what doomed Tommy Rees. Rees' decision-making seemed to vacillate back-and-forth between forcing everything and forcing nothing. He was alternately scared to make a mistake and scared to miss out on a big play.
Rees often shut things down and made only the safest play in front of him, forsaking anything downfield. Yet, just as often, Rees was compelled to make a big play, no matter what the cost. Usually, that cost ended up as an interception.
Who knows exactly what was going on in his head, but it seems to me that fear of a sideline berating from Kelly shaped the way that Rees made decisions.
This season, Kelly can coach his guys hard, but he can't ever make them question their instincts.
An offense moving at warp speed must embrace the natural decision-making tendencies of its players, if only because the offense doesn't leave time for them to over-think things. If the triggerman in a spread offense can't make up his mind quickly, the team will not move fast, regardless of the pace of the players around him.
Players will make mistakes, but that is to be expected in the first season of a new offense. Kelly needs to keep the long view in mind and allow his players (especially his quarterbacks) to grow.
Brady Hoke has been deservedly praised for his turnaround of the Michigan Wolverines this past season, but his short-term results do not indicate long-term gains, especially on offense.
Hoke wanted to implement a pro-style system, and through the first game, he did. Michigan rode a couple of poorly-timed turnovers to a rain-shortened win over Western Michigan.
It looked like Hoke's system was taking root in Week 1, but when Notre Dame brought the Wolverines offense to a halt in the first half of Week 2, the future didn't look so bright.
At that point, Hoke gave up. He dropped his pro-style system and let his best player, Denard Robinson, dictate the offensive flow.
With winning now as the ultimate goal, you can't argue with the results. Robinson turned in a spectacular performance and led Michigan to a comeback win. That win earned him to keys to the offense, and he responded by leading Michigan all the way to the Sugar Bowl.
With Robinson back, the Wolverines will be good again next season, but once he's gone, Hoke will be back at square one. Right now, he doesn't have an offense, he has one transcendent player. When Robinson graduates, Hoke will be all the way back at square one. He'll not only have to bring in a new quarterback, but also re-teach his offense to his entire team.
Michigan might return to the BCS next season, but we won't have a true reading on Brady Hoke's future success until 2013.
The approach that is most successful right away is not always the best approach for the long term, and that is absolutely the case for Notre Dame in 2012. The Irish don't have a player that Robinson that might distract them from sticking to its long-term plan, but even so, Kelly and his coaching staff need to keep their collective eye on the ball.
Uptempo offense isn't as simple as flipping a switch. It requires complete commitment from every aspect of the team. It's not something that just happens in games—it's rooted in an attitude that must permeate every team meeting and practice session.
This speed of offense only works if every single player buys on the practice field and on game day.
The advantage rides on getting the play off quickly, but obviously, the ball can't be snapped until everybody is set. It's easy for receivers to hustle up to the line after making a catch, but if the offensive line doesn't sprint downfield after every big play, the wideouts' effort is wasted.
Bringing in a new offense and a new quarterback will be difficult. Things are probably going to get worse before they get better. But no matter what the early returns, Kelly needs to stay the course.
Trust the process, not the results.