Pac-12 and the Offensive Revolution: The Defensive Coordinator's Nightmare
With the Pac-12's recent addition of Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach and apparently June Jones, the league's defenses are under a full scale assault. The Pac-10/12 has always been know for its innovated offenses but you have not seen anything yet.
The new coaches in the conference all run variations of the spread offense. Some rely on the run while others rely on the pass but the one thing you can count on are the days where your team's defense gives up fewer than 20 points a game are over.
The spread offense is designed to spread the field to exploit key matchups where the offense has the advantage. The idea is to replace the fullbacks and tight ends with wide receivers and running backs to put a large number of athletes on the field at the same time.
If you spread the field with a large number of players with more athleticism, you place a lot of pressure on even good defenses to defend at least four or five players down field at all times. This scenario is a disadvantage because inevitably a teams fourth best wide receiver will have more talent than the defense's fourth best secondary player.
Most spread offenses use misdirection to further exploit the mismatches to get the offensive player in space to utilize their speed or strength in the open field. The spread began as an offense at schools that may have had less talent on their overall team but had a few playmakers they could use if they had a favorable matchup.
Oregon saw this and implemented it to level the playing field and eventually they showed what the system could do with top notch talent. After the results that Oregon has shown in the past few years, it is clear they have set a blueprint that many teams will be using for the foreseeable future.
Spread offenses are no longer a fad but now are the norm and the Pac-12 now has a number of the most skilled technicians of this offensive system.
Leach, Rodriguez, Jones and Kelly all use slightly different variations of the spread along with most Pac-12 teams to a lesser extent. The common denominator is that they score a considerable amount of points and they put constant pressure on defenses to play at the top of their game or face an avalanche of points.
Gone are the days of the 10-13 contests and now they become 45-50 shootouts. For most fans, this is a welcomed change but the traditional fan sees this as an assault on fundamental football (i.e. winning championships by running the ball and playing stout defense).
Video game scores will continue because it is nearly impossible for defenses on the west coast to stock up on enough dominant defensive lineman to counter the spread.
(Defensive pressure with the front four is the key to stopping the spread. Pressure with the interior linemen disrupts the timing and sight lines of the offense and effectively neutralizes the spread offense—as the SEC has proven.)
So, this is the future of the conference, defined by the simple fact that there are just not enough key defensive players to effectively stop the spread.
So for the foreseeable future fans will need to adopt new expectations for their team's defenses and pay attention to the relative rankings instead of the raw numbers in a vacuum.
For better or worse, football in the Pac-12 is evolving and teams not adopting the spread or recruiting the right defensive players will be marred in mediocrity until they jump aboard.
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