COMMENTARY: This is no fly sweep

SAY THIS FOR Mike Riley, he's not afraid to shake things up. And that's very easy to like, that Riley and staff aren't standing pat on offense coming off a disappointing year, that they're changing things up in an effort to improve. But in the end, for 2011, is adding in some zone-read option going to produce enough of a benefit for Oregon State?

For any not entirely familiar with the phrase "zone-read option", in the most general of terms, the QB is in the shotgun, the RB lines up next to him. The o-line often blocks all in the same direction and the QB sticks the football in the running back's breadbasket, who is moving in the same direction as the o-line. The QB is reading a defender, (not always but often the weakside defensive end), and he's left unblocked. If the defender charges him, the QB completes the handoff. If the defender pursues the running back (or running back's path), the QB keeps the pigskin and looks to zip through the lane just vacated by the overpursuing defender.

There's an excellent discussion about the X's and O's of the zone-read option already underway on the BF.C message boards so there's no need to rehash those points here. Instead, it's the less technical points that have me concerned.

Oregon State is late to the party. The zone-read option has been in vogue a few years now. Defenses are getting better defending it, and will be better defending it in 2011 than they were in 2010. The prospects of surprising someone with it are no longer there.

When OSU began running the fly sweep a few years back, it was successful its first two years because of two reasons -- the talents of James Rodgers and that they caught the conference by surprise. In the third year, however, it wasn't nearly as successful, and OSU in turn started to run it less and less.

That's what happens. Defenses adjust.

ANOTHER AREA of concern is frequency. Oregon State is not going away from their base offense, they're going to simply add in some zone-read into their playbook.

Football is about execution. Teams get better at it the more they do something. And college football history is littered with programs that tried to take something successful elsewhere and add it, but to a lesser degree, and then failed. It's kind of like the jack-of-all-trades school of thought.

If you're going to do it, do it with both feet, not with one toe tentatively dipped into the water.

There's also this – that first year, when changing something up on offense or defense? It's usually a transition year, complete with growing pains as the players adjust and learn all the little intricacies of how to effectively do something new. And OSU is breaking in a brand new running back after losing one of their best ever to the NFL.

THERE ARE REASONS for optimism. Even if things aren't executed perfectly in the zone-read, a really athletic QB can overcome a lot of it -- and Ryan Katz offered some hints last year that he is such a player. And Katz ran the zone-read in high school. O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh is a heck of a teacher and OSU's line, athletic but comparatively small, is a good fit for such a scheme. Other teams have to prepare for it, giving less time during game week for them to prepare for OSU's base and other wrinkles.

But in the end, in considering this upcoming season, it's hard for me to see where any of that will trump the underlining challenges detailed above.

I usually take a long term view of things when it comes to the Beavs, but coming off a 5-7 year, my focus is squarely on 2011. The real benefits of incorporating some zone-read are likely to be realized most in 2012, and beyond.

I hope I'm wrong. And maybe this spring will make that plain. Maybe OSU comes out and looks like they've been running it all their lives and it feels like for fans watching, 'Oh, this is what has been missing!' Wouldn't that be something.

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