Spread offense, gimmick or innovation?

One of the biggest questions about the new Wildcat spread offense, after ‘are they going to score points?' is whether the scheme is a gimmick. Although it is a pass-happy scheme that can score points without the horses teams like USC have in abundance, it is also an established offense that has been around for some time.

Reviews on the offense are mixed. Some see it as a natural evolution in offensive scheming, while others think it is a gimmick that, while effective, is not the offense to lead a team to a championship.

That second opinion may be slowly disappearing. Bob Stoops won his national championship with current Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach as his offensive coordinator. While the Sooners did not throw the ball 50 times a game like the Red Raiders do, the basic elements of spreading out the offense remain the same.

Florida won a title this year with their version of the spread. The Urban Meyer version relies far more on option and misdirection than the Leach version, but again the basic principles of creating more open space is the same.

There is a fine line between gimmick and innovation. At one time the forward pass was seen as a gimmick, now you are hard pressed to find a non-option teams that has anything less than a 50-50 split between run and pass.

At one time the Run and Shoot was all the rage, but unlike the spread, it quickly died out. Mouse Davis had his success with it at Portland State and the USFL. Andre Ware used it to win a Heisman at Houston, but it never really caught on. The Buffalo Bills used elements of it in their K-Gun offense, but that would hardly be mistaken for the 60 passes a game scheme of the Run and Shoot.

The spread is everywhere, in various forms. It seems to prevalent to be a passing fad.

"I hated going up against it," said former coach Larry Smith. "We saw it when I was still at Missouri and it is tough to stop."

Smith said the fact that the offense is so explosive is what makes it tough.

"You can shut it down for half a game and all of the sudden they explode," Smith said. "Look at the bowl game against Minnesota. They were down 35-7 and in the second half they start to run and it was all over."

Mike Stoops has called it a "proven offense" and echoed coach Smith's thoughts on the difficulty in stopping it. Stoops seems to have become a fan after seeing schools like BYU add a serious run components, one that can potentially eat up clock late in games.

Another fan, at least now that he no longer has to defend against it, is former Wildcat safety and current broadcaster Brandon Nash. Nash saw a lesser version employed at Washington State and feels the new scheme can become a nightmare for defensive backs.

"In the zone your first step is back," Nash explained. "In the spread that can give the receiver just enough room to make a move and get a big gain. Since everyone is so spread out, you don't have a lot of help. If you give the receiver too much cushion the quarterback will zip him the ball and let him work."

Nash feels that beauty of the spread is that it "fits the personnel" the Wildcats already have in place.

"It's perfect for a guy like Mike Thomas or some of the other receivers," Nash continued. "You don't have to be 6-5. It would have been perfect for guys like Dennis Northcutt and Bobby (Wade). You just hit guys like that on the slant or the quick out and watch them work."

While a pro style offense utilizes a particular style of offense, the spread takes advantage of particular personnel. That is why a lot of teams have gone to it. There are only so many Dwayne Jarrett's out there, but there are far more 5-10 athletes who can run in the 4.4-4.5 range. Whereas USC can run NFL offenses because they stockpile NFL caliber players, the spread seems to give the other guys a chance.

"It rewards athleticism and speed," said B.J. Dennard. "If you are fast and good in the open field, you'll love this offense."

While the offense still has it's benefits, it is still new enough that some feel it is just a fad. Until a few more big name programs implement it, the scheme could still wind up with the "gimmick" tag.

"I don't know, I just know this, when we play this type of defense it is one of the hardest to prepare for each and every year," said Wildcat defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. "I don't know what you want to call it, it looks pretty good to me."

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