When I was a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, and in my early years at Auburn, we ran the wishbone. I am still a big fan of that offense, but it has its limitations. If the wishbone was the best offensive formation available today we would be seeing the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, the Atlanta Falcons and other pro teams using it.
The only personnel package I know about that doesn't have limitations is one in which you line up with a quarterback, a fullback, a tailback, a tight end and two wide receivers. You can do whatever an offense needs to do out of that alignment.
You can run the option from that formation, you can throw the ball deep and you can send five receivers into a pass pattern. However, if you don't have a quarterback who can throw the ball on target and skill folks who can beat defenders one-on-one, you would be better off running a triple option offense.
Last season Auburn was fairly good at running the football, but like most teams that faced LSU's and Alabama's strong defenses the Tigers struggled to consistently move the football against those teams on the ground. That allowed those defenses to focus on pinning their ears back and attacking the quarterback.
The only team that had a lot of success running vs. Alabama last year was Georgia Southern and I will guarantee you a team like that, one which is very good at executing the wishbone, is one most major college defensive coordinators are not fond of preparing for with a week to get ready for the game.
The SEC's two newcomers, Texas A&M and Missouri, are not expected to attack defenses with the wishbone or another type of option offense. They are expected to throw the football a lot this season with their versions of the spread formation. Throwing can be a quick way to score points, especially in this era with offenses doing a really good job of attacking through the air with a variety of different alignments and a quick tempo.
A team with a good quarterback and solid receivers can cause a lot of headaches for a defense unless the defense has guys up front who can control the running game with a minimal amount of personnel focused on doing that while at the same time having enough talent at linebacker and in the secondary to cover folks. If a defense can consistently do a solid job of stopping the run and covering in the secondary, it can go from being effective to hard to beat if it is also able to pressure the quarterback.
If the defense is chasing and pounding on the quarterback before he has time for his play to develop, the offense is going struggle and it doesn't matter how good he is. Even Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are going to struggle if the defense is on them before they have a chance to make a play.
A lot of college teams are running five wide receiver formations. In my opinion when that happens it becomes a three-man game. The guys who really matter on those plays are the quarterback, the intended receiver and the defensive back covering him. If the quarterback can't deliver the football in a timely and accurate manner his team might as well be running the wishbone if the quarterback is a hard-nose guy with the ability to run the football.
One of the reasons I love the wishbone and was successful with it was that it gave my teams a chance to be more physical than the teams we were going against. At East Carolina when we were playing vs. teams with better personnel our formation gave us a chance to always get a double-team block at the point of attack. If the other team's 300-pound defensive lineman could normally whip our 250-pound offensive lineman we could do something about that by using a double-team and putting 500 pounds of offensive linemen blocking that defender.
Executing the triple option properly the quarterback is going to eliminate one defender from making a play with the read and another one with the pitch so you have the offense playing 11 against nine, which can level the playing field. At the major college level teams like Navy and Air Force are examples of how the wishbone can still work, but in my opinion what the 2012 Auburn team will be doing on offense is the way to go.
With Auburn's new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler running the show, if the quarterback play is where it needs to be the Tigers should be able to consistently move the ball through the air and on the ground. It looks to me like Coach Loeffler's system is versatile enough to play power football with the running game while also making opponents defend the entire field with what should be a complex passing game.
If Auburn's defense can step up and improve when opposing teams are trying to run the football, the 2012 team should be tougher to deal with than last year's team was if the offense plays up to its potential with a lot of experienced players returning. With the season just around the corner, I am excited to see what happens with this year's Auburn team on both offense and defense.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.