Option Anyone? Mobile Quarterbacks and the Spread in Today's Game

mun chungContributor IOctober 8, 2008

It was like déjà vu. Every time I looked up at the TV screen, Juice Williams was either casting a frozen rope 40 yards downfield or faking a handoff and busting up the gut for 15. It was a sight us Michigan fans had seen way too many times—an athletic quarterback who could both run and throw absolutely shredding us to pieces.

Isaiah “Juice” Williams was only the latest to do so.

The Fighting Illini’s star quarterback set the record for all-purpose yards by an opposing player in Michigan Stadium last Saturday (431 yards: 310 passing with two TDs and 121 rushing with two TDs), and with his ridiculous stat line came a chilling reminder to all of the maize and blue faithful.

Coach Carr might be gone, but this team is far from ready to face the dual-threat quarterback.

Williams’ performance revived memories of two quarterbacks in particular. The first was Texas’ Vince Young in the 2005 Rose Bowl, which the Longhorns won 38-37. Young threw a touchdown pass and ran for three more.

Second, of course (sorry to bring this up Michigan fans), was Ohio State’s Troy Smith and his three-year dominance of the Wolverines.

Saturday’s game left this writer perplexed. I was sure that this new Michigan team would be much more effective in containing a mobile quarterback than it had been in the past, the reason being Mike Barwis, the new strength and conditioning coach at Michigan. He had news reporters who had seen the Wolverines practice raving about the new team speed.

It was evident as well in this year's victory over Wisconsin. It was clear in the fourth quarter that Wisconsin was out-conditioned, and the Wolverine front seven flew to the ball the entire game.

I had been so sure that this year Juice Williams would not run all over us.

But I was wrong.

Saturday’s game showed me that nothing has changed.

However, as I was brooding the loss, a thought came into my head. I remembered the scores of our losses to OSU during the Troy Smith era.

2004: 37-21 Buckeyes

2005: 25-21 Buckeyes

2006: 42-39 Buckeyes

I then realized something. Aside from the 2004 game (which we led 14-7 at one point), every high profile game against a mobile quarterback was decided by four points or less. We could have won those games if our offense had been more effective.

I then thought about the significance of the improved team speed and conditioning and came to this conclusion: It didn’t mean squat.

Today’s game has evolved quite a bit from the past. The fact of the matter is, with the offensive geniuses' schemes of today, coupled with quarterbacks who can beat defenses through the air as well as on the ground, there is simply NO WAY TO STOP THOSE KINDS OF OFFENSES.

Just look at the USC-Ohio State game from this year. Every time Todd Boeckman was under center, the Trojans pinned their ears back and came after him, dominating the game. Every time Terrelle Pryor took the snap, the men of Troy weren’t nearly as quick to move downfield.

Pryor’s ability to get to the outside had essentially neutralized the speed of a defense loaded with future NFL first round picks. Had Pryor played the whole game, I think the final score would have been different. Not to say that I think the Buckeyes would have won, just that USC’s defense would not have been nearly as dominant as it was.

Now, I am sure some of you reading this right now are thinking, "What about the 2007 BCS title game? You used Troy Smith as an example of a mobile quarterback, yet the Gators put a 27-point beatdown on 'the' Ohio State."

True, but think about the scheme used. Jim Tressel does not employ a spread offense, which utilizes a ton of options and quarterback keepers.

That is the difference.

Remember what I said? “It is the offensive geniuses' schemes of today COUPLED with quarterbacks who can beat defense through the air and on the ground...”

See?  When the offensive play being run can instantaneously change based on a defense's reaction (i.e. the spread), it causes the defense to freeze and wait until the offense has shown its hand before it can react. When you have a quarterback that can run a 4.5 forty, by the time the offense has made its move, it is oftentimes simply too late.

The way I see it, there are only two ways to beat a team like Illinois:

1) They beat themselves with mistakes.

2) You outscore them.

Look at the two losses the Illini suffered this year. They lost in a shootout to Missouri (they got outscored) and a shootout to Penn State (they got outscored and shot themselves in the foot with turnovers).

Coincidentally, Nittany Lions dual-threat quarterback Daryll Clark gave the Illini fits with two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. He had 50 yards on the ground on 11 carries.

Now look at Michigan’s only win in recent memory against a team with a dual-threat QB: the 2008 Capitol One Bowl. The Wolverines beat a Florida Gators team led by Heisman winner Tim Tebow by outscoring them 41-35.

Let us not also forget Ohio State’s only regular season loss last year. You guessed it, against Illinois IN the Horseshoe. I will let you take one guess at who blew up for the Fighting Illini.

So while the new team speed of Michigan proved to not be the answer, have faith Wolverines fans—I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One main reason our offense is not doing what Rich Rodriguez had West Virginia doing a year ago is because we simply do not have the personnel to run it. While Steven Threet is proving to be a capable leader on the field as well as an effective passer, the dude just can’t accelerate very quickly.

There have been numerous plays this year in which Threet could’ve cleared a hole and run for 15 yards if he could run a 4.6 instead of a 5.0.

Plus, you have to consider the mind-boggling number of mistakes the Wolverines have made. They are averaging something like four lost fumbles a game (probably more, I just can’t bring myself to go look it up).

This is a result of the new system and the incredible amount of pressure it puts on the thought process and decision-making abilities of every offensive player.

You can expect to see these kinds of mistakes for at least the rest of this year until the team gets comfortable with the very complicated spread Rodriguez runs.

Don’t worry, maize and blue faithful.

Once this team learns and understands how to run the spread...

Once this team internalizes the timing needed to run these plays...

Once Shavodrick Beaver and all of those high profile wideout recruits get to Ann Arbor...

Watch out, Buckeyes—we are coming.


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