With so many variations of the spread offense, offensive coordinators are now taking full advantage of athletic quarterbacks. Dual-threat QBs have always posed problems for even the best of defenses, but offensive coaches have not always focused on playing an athlete who can make plays with his hands as well as his feet.
From 2000-2006 (seven seasons) there were 21 quarterbacks who rushed for at least 500 yards and passed for more 2,000 yards, averaging at least 250 yards per game in total offense. During the past six seasons (2007-2012) that figure has nearly tripled to 59.
From 2000-2006 there were three dual-threat quarterbacks who averaged more than three touchdowns per game during the course of an entire season. From 2007-2012 there were 16. The combination of spread offenses and high-tempo execution has made dual-threat quarterbacks the most dynamic part of college football offenses.
It's a trend not only at the collegiate level, but is now being showcased in the NFL. Athletic quarterbacks are coming in as rookies into the NFL and making an immediate impact. Like the collegiate defenses, NFL defenses are now having to account for the quarterback in the opposing running game. There no longer is the personnel advantage that came when facing an offense directed by a pocket passer.
Though Bo Jackson remains Auburn's best athlete on a football field, former Tiger quarterback Cameron Newton was not too far behind in athletic ability. The primary difference was that Newton averaged 39 touches per game during his Heisman season compared to Bo Jackson's 25.6 as a running back. With 52 percent more touches Newton made the offense far more lethal than Jackson did in 1985. The opposing defenses had to account for Newton on every offensive snap, which opened the floodgates for other skill players on offense.
Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Tim Tebow of Florida accounted for 40.7 offensive touches per game during their Heisman Trophy seasons. Those three Heisman winning QBs accounted for 340.6 yards per game and nearly four touchdowns on their way to winning the top individual award in college football.
With opposing defenses keying on Newton, Tebow and Manziel, it allowed other players within the offense to make plays. If you were to take the top three rushers at the running back position, they averaged 6.7 yards per carry playing in the backfield with the Heisman winners. This included an average of 6.14 yards in conference play.
Looking back at the top 59 dual-threat quarterbacks from 2007-2012, their offenses had an average national ranking of No. 29 in generating explosive plays. The remaining offenses during this same time period had an average ranking of No. 63. More than half of the 59 dual-threat quarterbacks from 2007-2012 directed an offense that finished in the nation's Top 25 in generating 10-yard run plays and 15-yard pass plays.
Gus Malzahn's offense on its own merit is an explosive one, but placing an athletic quarterback in the driver's seat expands the potential. "I think in this day and time, especially in our league, you've got to have quarterbacks that can create plays when things break down because with the pass rushers that we have in this league things are going to break down so you need to have a guy that can escape and make plays," Auburn's head coach says.
Coming into the 2013 season, Malzahn will have multiple options at quarterback and all of them bring more athletic ability to the table than your standard pocket passer. The key will be selecting the one who brings the highest level of consistency.
From 2007-2012 offenses at the FBS level have averaged 388 yards and 28 points per game. The offenses directed by the 59 dual-threat quarterbacks averaged 457 yards and 35 points per game. Of those 59 teams 29 finished the season with a record of 9-4 or better.
During the 2010 season Newton gained 91 first downs running the football. This was twice as many as the Auburn starting quarterbacks from 2007-2009 combined. When you consider that statistically a first down is worth nearly 1.4 points since 2007, Newton basically accounted for an additional nine points per game with his running ability. Tebow averaged 59 first downs per season rushing the football and Manziel produced 67 during his Heisman season.
The addition of a dual-threat quarterback to the Auburn offense gives the Tigers two advantages. Opposing defenses must now account for the quarterback as an additional runner, eliminating the previous numbers advantage for the defense. Secondly, the tempo of Malzahn's offense will hinder opposing defenses from substituting regularly, allowing the Auburn offense to play downhill more often.
Offensive success still comes down to execution, but the recent trends in college football reveal the distinct advantage of having a playmaker in place at the quarterback position. As Auburn's starting quarterback attempts to adjust to his ability to carry out the passing attack this season, he will have his athletic ability to rely upon until all facets of his game have evolved into the offense.