Army and Hawaii run similar spreads

When the Army Black Knights hosts the Hawaii Warriors on Saturday the casual fan will view both teams' offenses as similar as apples and oranges. They might wonder what does Hawaii, with it wide open passing game, and Army, with its triple option ground game, have in common.

However if you look at it schematically the two offenses that take the field at Michie Stadium on Saturday are actually kindred spirits. Both are run out of essentially the same formation. They feature wider offensive line splits, a single back, no tight end and two players in slots. Both are designed to spread the field vertically to create one on one mismatches and big plays

The Run & shoot was popularized by former Portland State offensive coordinator "Mouse" Davis. June Jones played quarterback for two seasons for Davis at Portland State. After a short playing career Jones followed Davis into the USFL and later the NFL as both an assistant, offensive coordinator and head coach. It was at Hawaii where Jones really showed what the run and shoot could do. Jones took over a Warrior team that had lost 18 games in a row and proceeded to go 9-4 his first season. Hawaii hasn't stopped passing since.

The Run and Shoot is a flexible offense that doesn't have preset routes. Receivers are free to adjust their routes as they are running them in response to the defensive coverage. The quarterback reads and reacts to the defense's coverages to determine where the receivers will be. The Run and Shoot uses motion and formations to spread the defense out and create mismatches.

The spread option formation was probably first noticed on college level when Air Force under Ken Hatfield changed the wishbone offense and moved the halfback to the line as slot backs. After Paul Johnson was installed as offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern he created the current spread as a hybrid of the veer and the run and shoot. The system produced six national championships at Georgia Southern and had great success at Hawaii, Navy and Georgia Tech under Johnson's tutelage. Rich Ellerson was defensive coordinator at Hawaii when Paul Johnson was the offensive coordinator. Not exactly a bad staff for Bob Wagner. Ellerson's friendship with Johnson and his belief in system resulted in his implementation of spread offense at Cal Poly. The Cal Poly coaches spent time with Navy coaches in the off season during Ellerson's tenure at Cal Poly in coaches exchange to learn more about the system

On Saturday you will see Army's spread formation use the triple option as a foundation. Just like in Hawaii's Run and Shoot, the quarterback, slot backs and receivers need to read the defense to determine the defensive count. The defensive count starts with all players that line up within five yards of the line of scrimmage from the B gap out. The B gap is space between the guard and tackle. The direction of the play is called in the huddle but Steelman and the players need to read the defense. They can change the play, just like QB running a traditional offense, by using audibles to the run play to side where there is a numerical advantage. If the defense is balanced the offense runs the play to the wide side of field. On the triple option, number 1 (usually a DT or DE) and number 2 (usually a DE/LB) are pitch keys and left unblocked. The QB makes his reads off those two players and decides who gets the ball.

As you can see both offenses will use similar formations to spread the defense and create mismatches but with different aims. Hawaii's Run and Shoot looks to pass a vast majority of the time while the spread option will run most of the time. The interesting chess match will be how they defense each other.

The Army Double Eagle flex defense will use its usual multiple fronts but with its nickel and dime coverages to account for the additional receivers. The flex defense is known for defending the run, the EMU game excluded, but was actually designed by Ellerson when he was a defensive coordinator in the wide open Canadian Football League to defend the pass. Army's defense finished third in the nation last year in pass defense despite having pedestrian speed in secondary. However, they never faced a passing attack like Hawaii's last year. Hawaii's rebuilt offensive line blocked well against USC despite allowing three sacks. Josh McNary and the flex front need to generate pressure and break Moniz's passing rhythm. Cornerback Antuan Aaron, who missed most of the opener, should be ready to play.

Hawaii will probably use the same defensive approach it did to defeat Navy's spread offense last year. Hawaii mixed their defensive front to confuse the Mids spread option defensive count. As pointed out in the Birddog blog on Navy football the Warriors employed an illegal tactic of grabbing the play side tackle and hooking his arm to keep him from getting to second level to block the linebackers. The play side tackles job in the triple option is not to block the defensive end in the count. That player is left to run free and the quarterback makes his read based on how defensive end reacts. Army, when John Mumford was defensive coordinator, tried to pinch the defensive ends in 2007 to obstruct the play side tackle which is legal. The Warriors grab and hook tactics are illegal. Rich Ellerson would be advised to tell the referees to look for Hawaii's holding tactics. Top Stories