2011 Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers and My Top 5 NCAA Favorite Offenses
College football or the NFL? This long-debated question has spawned endless debates that have no right answer, as inevitably both sides will stay split. While I prefer the NFL, I can't help but gravitate towards the offensive schemes at the college level.
As a former spread option quarterback, I have a special spot in my heart for college football and get almost as excited seeing a perfectly executed midline read as I do a new batch of Kate Upton pictures.
Now that the REAL college football season has gotten underway (personally I think Alabama's 48-7 nail-biter over Kent State was good enough to crown them the champs), more of a premium will be put on offensive (and defensive) execution, which places all the more premium on having a successful scheme being called by a great play-caller.
A few notable omissions:
Chris Ault's Pistol: The "Pistol" is a formation and not an offense, which people don't realize.
Bobby Petrino's Hybrid: I like Petrino's offense and scheme, but it isn't unique enough to make the list.
So with that, I give you my favorite offenses in college football, in reverse order:
5. Oregon Ducks Spread Offense—Chip Kelly
If you've ever had the pleasure of watching the Ducks offense, you instantly notice one thing:
The Ducks play at an almost alarming rate, as they often snap off three plays in 30 seconds or less. Chip Kelly took over for Mike Belotti and took the Ducks to the BCS National Championship in just his second year.
The main tenants of Kelly's spread offense are option runs, jet sweeps and unlike many other spread offenses, a version of the midline read. They get to the line quickly and get to have a very simplified offense. All of their runs set up deep play-action passes that catch the defense on its heals. Early in the game, Oregon runs a lot of lateral plays to stretch the defense and then busts dive plays up the middle after the defensive line gets tired.
Oregon currently has the No. 6 offense in the nation and is showing no signs of slowing down.
4. Mississippi State Spread Option—Dan Mullen
As most fans know, Dan Mullen came to Starkville from the University of Florida where he learned from spread offense legend Urban Meyer. Mullen served under Meyer from 2001 to 2008 and, as his early success at Mississippi State has shown, picked up the offense Meyer perfected quite well.
The core concepts of the spread option are extending the defense laterally by getting the ball to playmakers in space and stretching coverage areas of the "box" players (the front seven). Mullen has had very gifted, athletic quarterbacks to work with, and that ingredient is essential to the success of the offense since the quarterback is every bit of a running threat as the backs are.
Mullen's offense relies primarily on inside zone, option principles (speed and triple) and misdirection counters (the "dart" was long a favorite of Meyer's). The offense's passing game relies on the quick game and the deep post and "go" routes downfield off play-action fakes which are so successful because of the constant running threat presented.
While Mississippi State has gotten off to a rough start this year, they will be in contention for an SEC championship in the very near future.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide Pro-Style Offense—Jim McElwain
I'm sure most, if not all of you, are surprised to see this offense at No. 3. Follow my logic for a second though.
If you have a true appreciation for a good, efficient, effective offense, you have to love Alabama. No team in the entire nation can run the "Power O" better than the Crimson Tide. Their offense is one of the few remaining top teams that run a traditional, (semi) pro-style offense. I love their running game almost more than any other in the country. They run Inside/Outside Zone, Power/Power O and Toss with tremendous success.
Their passing game is set up by their runs and they look to hit the deep post and dig routes and protect the football. Their offense is perfect for Nick Saban's philosophy of playing defense and pounding the run.
Alabama is top 15 in the country in rushing yards per game and is continuing their run of success.
2. Georgia Tech Double Slot Option—Paul Johnson
I have a soft spot in my heart for this offense because I was a quarterback in this offense. While far too many people think of it in the same way as the Wing-T (IT'S NOT!), Paul Johnson's double-slot option attack is much different and much more explosive.
Paul Johnson perfected this attack at Georgia Southern and popularized it at Navy, where he turned the Midshipmen into a viable bowl contender.
The offense is centered around an under-center, athletic quarterback, a hard-running, physical fullback (often the "dive back") and two swift, fast slot backs that line up off the tackle or tight end.
The center of this attack is the quick dive action of the fullback and then a series of options off that play based on the quarterback reading a defender and then keeping the ball or pitching it off of another. The attack is extremely hard to stop because each play essentially is designed to adapt to every outcome.
Critics of the offense point to its lack of a passing game and the difficulty triple-option offenses have coming back from large deficits, but it is a tough, physical, explosive offense that can give defenses fits.
Johnson has seen success at Georgia Tech, giving hope to those who want to see this offense more at the Division I level.
1. Auburn Tigers Spread Offense—Gus Malzahn
It was hard to not fall in love with the Tigers offense last year with Cam Newton running one of the most creative, explosive offenses in NCAA history.
Gus Malzahn perfected his craft in the high school ranks before moving up to Arkansas, then to Tulsa, then finally now to Auburn, where he directed the Tigers to a national championship.
Malzahn's offense is similar to that of Urban Meyer's spread, but there are some major differences. The Malzahn spread relies less on the triple option and more on direct quarterback runs and more use of receivers in the run game.
The most unique play is an updated version of what is most similar to the old "Buck-Sweep" except it is run out of the shotgun and involves a player motioning into the backfield and taking the handoff behind the QB. Arguably Auburn's best passing play last year came off the play-action from this play. It was aided by the double fake of a straight dive, then the reverse fake and then a long deep pass.
Almost all the passes in his offense come off run fakes, and when they run the ball well, the pass plays are dominant.
The Malzahn spread uses everyone as a threat to run or catch the ball, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense.