Flaherty on Marcus Herford's Role

Brian Luke is KU's starter at QB. How does speedster Marcus Herford fit into the mix? Kevin Flaherty with more inside.

I’ve received several questions this week about Marcus Herford’s role on the football team.

From Coach Mangino’s discussions, I think that Brian Luke and Herford will be utilized in a similar manner to the way Georgia used David Greene and D.J. Shockley the past couple of years. As a refresher, Greene was the older player, a statuesque passer with a nice arm who could make all of the throws with minimal mistakes. Shockley was the mobile, exciting option that was difficult to keep off the field because of his skills. He also was the quarterback of the future, and Mark Richt wanted to make sure that he was able to get some snaps before he was inserted full-time this year.

Kansas has a similar situation with Luke as the passer and Herford as the dynamic athlete-type. Luke is the senior, while Herford may battle it out with Meier for the quarterback position next year.

Basically, Luke will be the workhorse, the number one guy, the main man. He’ll play 85-90 percent of the game, while Herford may play 10-15 percent. But Herford won’t use the whole playbook. Instead, he’ll be given a light meal of handoffs, quarterback draws and quick throws, mostly to the outside, to try and move the ball down the field. His package may increase if he shows the ability, but for now, that’s his situation.

Here’s why it works:

  1. Herford is too good of an athlete to keep off the field. By placing him at quarterback, not only are the Jayhawks exploiting the advantage his legs can create, they are giving the defense more to think about and gameplan for. It’s much more difficult to face two quarterbacks of varying styles than it is to face one the whole game. Mangino will likely only put Herford out there to start drives, which ensures that he’s not taking anything away from Luke’s rhythm.
  2. By running a mobile quarterback onto the field, he changes what the defense must do. The easiest way to shut down a mobile quarterback is to cram the middle of the field to ensure that when he leaves the pocket, he’s immediately got a linebacker in his face. This strategy showed up in full when Ohio State started to slow down Vince Young last week. If the defensive ends can keep contain, that keeps him from jetting to the outside. There are two things that Kansas will do to keep the defense honest with Herford. The first, and most obvious choice is to spread the field. But even when the Jayhawks don’t spread the field they will keep defenses in place by ...
  3. Making quick throws to the outside. Yes, Herford is a difficult athlete to slow down. But so are Brian Murph, Mark Simmons and Marcus Henry one-on-one with the ball in their hands. If the defense crowds the middle, Herford will simply throw some bubble screens and some out routes to make the defense respect him.  They are easy throws to make, and are Herford’s strength as a passer. The defensive backs also can’t jump the out routes because the threat exists, with Kansas’ athletes at wide receiver for a stop-and-go.  Any defense would rather give up the short pass than a long bomb to an open receiver — almost any D1A quarterback can complete that throw. But by allowing that short pass, a single move by an elusive Murph could end up in the same result. So defenses can’t really pack the middle. But if they back off ...
  4. Herford, Green and Cornish will have a field day. The easiest run for a quarterback is when the middle of the field is empty. Kansas fans may remember watching Bill Whittemore eat apart defenses for 8-12 yards at a time because the defense wasn’t in position. Herford is capable of that, and because of his size and strength, much more. Add in the fact that both Green and Cornish are more than capable backs with the ability to shred defenses that are spread out and you’ve got an offense that will click. This strategy also works because ...
  5. Herford is a young quarterback, and in general, young quarterbacks make mistakes. Quarterbacks typically make mistakes on two types of plays — plays where they don’t have enough time, and plays where a quarterback has too many options. Virginia Tech became famous for “dumbing down” its offense for Michael Vick. Herford should handle a similar offense. The quick nature of the offense stops defenses’ ability to blitz — it frees up the wide receivers who are already running quick routes. But Herford should also only have one or two options to pass. If one and two are covered, Herford should take off. By simplifying the offense, you limit his mistakes and keep his confidence up.

So in short, you have Luke as your main quarterback, but you can run out Herford for anywhere from five to 15 plays per game and keep the defense on its heels.  When he comes out, the offense will be simplified, but deadly because it allows him to play to his strengths and keep his confidence. But if the Jayhawks get trapped in a long-yardage situation, don’t be surprised to see Herford get the hook for Luke —stretching the defense with the pass is not Herford’s forte, yet.

Georgia was able to play in three New Year’s Day bowls, win an SEC Championship and play in another SEC Championship game with this system. If the Jayhawks can get enough burst out of the system to win the North this year, I’m sure they would be happy.

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