First impressions of the spread

Arizona showed off the new spread offense on Saturday and the differences were noticeable, even if the results may not have been exactly what the coaches wanted.

To the casual observer, the differences may not have been that noticeable. There were more four receiver sets and the splits were wider, but it was not like the team was in the no huddle offense or going with five wide receivers.

There were a wide variety of formations. Most containing three or four receivers, but we saw tight ends, full backs and even a two tight end set on short yardage.

The quarterback is in the shotgun quite a bit more and there is a greater emphasis on the pass. On Saturday Wildcat quarterbacks threw 55 times.

The offense moved the ball, but did so against a defense that was missing three starting defensive backs. Antoine Cason, Wilrey Fontenot and Dominic Patrick all sat this one out for various reasons.

Most of the passes are short, quick routes. A lot of slants and quick outs. Although the ball was in the air a lot, it appears as if they can use the passing game to work the clock if needed.

Let's look at things position by position.

Quarterback: Fear not, this is not the Utah or Oregon spread. While the quarterback can roll out, you won't see any option from the position. This is a passing offense first and foremost.

Willie Tuitama looked solid, but was not spectacular. He missed on a few passes and did not always make super fast decisions. He did make a few very tough throws and was able to keep alive in the pocket much better, possibly due to being nearly 20 pounds lighter than a year ago. He made one really bad read that led to a Spencer Larsen pick, but for the most part moved the offense pretty well. He led the offense to both of their touchdowns

Tyler Lyon was a bit sharper, but was going up against the second string defense most of the time. Lyon did fumble at the defense's five yard line but recovered the ball.

Kris Heavner looked comfortable as well. He was the lone passer to connect on the long ball, but that was due, in part, to the defensive back misplaying the high, hanging pass.

All told the quarterbacks completed over 70% of their passes.

Running Backs: All three running backs were very impressive. Chris Jennings looks like a natural for the system. He averaged over 10 yards a carry on the ground and also caught a couple of passes out of the backfield.

Not to be undone, Xavier Smith averaged a hair under nine yards a carry and grabbed four balls for 29 yards as a receiver.

Terry Longbons also had a nice outing rushing for 26 yards on five carries and also picking up 18 yards on two shovel passes.

That may have been the biggest difference in the offense from last season. The team used several shuffle passes and also had a few draw plays out of the shotgun. That being said, on short yardage plays they went with more traditional formations.

Wide Receivers: It was tough to get a great gauge on the receivers as most of the patterns were short and the defense did a terrific job keeping pass catchers in front of them and not allowing them to pick up a lot of yards after the catch. For the offense to be successful the receivers will need to gain yards after the catch.

The star of the day may have been Anthony Johnson who made a number of tough catches over the middle. Johnson became a more reliable receiver last season, looks to be perfectly suited to be a possession guy who can go over the middle.

The tight end spot was utilized. A.J. Simmons caught a touchdown pass and another throw to the endzone was intended for Travis Bell before it was broken up. They even went with two tight ends on occasion, using Earl Mitchell there, as well as at fullback.

Offensive Line: The early prognosis is a good one. With over 55 pass attempts, the line surrendered just two "sacks". For the most part they did a decent time giving the quarterbacks time to throw.

They also did a very nice job on obvious running downs. On several short yardage plays they were able to get a very nice push up front and get the first down.

Other than the wider splits, the other big difference is the return to a man blocking scheme as opposed to a zone blocking scheme that had been in place. The current system calls for the linemen to identify a specific player before the snap that they are going to block. The old zone scheme relied on blockers attempting to clear a specific area.

Overall, I liked what I saw. The offense was fairly vanilla, but they execution was sharp and they moved the ball. They were not sharp on the deep ball, but that is a small part of what the offense wants to accomplish. The fact that they appear capable of controlling the clock was very comforting as time of possession is a concern for the upcoming season.

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