Game Day: My Spread Is Better Than Yours

Two Schools, two coaches, and two spread offenses, each with a similar goal, but two very different ways of going about it.

When Joe Tiller came to Purdue from Wyoming in 1997, with him came a spread offense whose likes hadn't been seen in the Big Ten Conference since…well, ever. Many thought a pass-happy offense such as Tiller's would be futile in the elements of the Big Ten Conference, due to the athletic superiority, coupled with inclement weather.

Boy, were they wrong.

Joe's "Basketball on Grass" resurrected a previously substandard Boilermaker program, whose record over the five years prior to Coach Tiller's arrival amounted to a smooth 13-28-3 mark. To the contrary, the four years following Tiller's arrival equated to a 33-16 mark, including a 2-2 record in bowl games, one of which was a loss to Washington in the 2000 Rose Bowl.

Certainly Tiller's success has waned in recent years, partially because of increased familiarity amongst his conference colleagues, but also due to an overall understanding of the "spread." "We came in the league and we saw the way people were defending us and every Monday we had to go to the hospital to get the grin removed from our face," Tiller told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. "Because we knew they weren't capable of defending the offense the way they were choosing to defend it." However, his style, while presently closer to the norm than the abnorm, still has a level of effectiveness, yet the rate of success has diminished. Coaches quickly learned that in-order to defend such a wide open attack, a team must have five or six cover guys rather than the standard pair on the corners. Since said revelation, most conference contenders have adjusted accordingly, leaving Tiller with the following option; adapt or become irrelevant.

And that's where the spread option attack comes in.

While Tiller's form of the "spread" relies primarily on the short to mid-range passing game, Chip Kelly's adaptation fits more into the "spread option" attack, which leans more heavily on the running game dependant upon zone reads from the quarterback position. Kelly's adaptation, similar to that which Urban Meyer uses at Florida, Rich Rodriguez previously used at West Virginia, and Mack Brown used with Vince Young at Texas, is a revision based on the natural ebb and flow of college football; defenses catch up.

Tiller himself made an effort in recent years to move more in the direction of the "spread option," but quickly found his team lacked the athleticism, primarily on the offensive line, to make it work effectively.

So where does that leave Tiller and his Purdue Boilermakers?

With an outdated system and the inability to upgrade.

You may ask, "Well, then how do Texas Tech and Hawaii make it work?"

Simple, Hawaii plays in a sub par league against second-rate athletes. We all saw what happened to them when they played big boy football against big boy BCS athletes (see 2008 Sugar Bowl). And Texas Tech? When was the last time they won a Big XII championship? Never, ring a bell?

The Spread Offense has evolved since the days of the Run N' Shoot. What used to be a system designed to allow the "Have Nots" an opportunity to compete with the "Haves," has grown into an adjustable offense which can be accentuated with upper-echelon talent. Tiller's shotgun spread offense -- a pass-heavy system with four and five wideouts -- was a novelty in a league known for crowded backfields and conservative play-calling in 1997, but is now a Model T car in a world full of Ferraris. What used to be an explosive scoreboard-lighting scheme, is now more likely to result in 4 or 5 yard gains and/or 4 or 5 receivers in the route…all covered.

Joe Tiller himself implies that without explosive playmakers his offense is benign. He doesn't have any. He says that quality and depth in the defensive backfield will counter his systems strengths. Oregon has that. And experts will tell you; without a dominant defense the spread offense is Zig without the Zag. Purdue's isn't.

So where does this all lead? To an Oregon victory.

If the Ducks take care of the ball, they win. It's up to Justin Roper and the rest of Oregon's offense to play smart, play fast, and play within themselves. If they do, they'll leave West Lafayette 3-0 and focusing on Boise State. If they don't, they'll be shaking their heads at what could've been.

Joe Tiller is a good football coach, with a nice system, at an admirable university, but a system is only as good as its players. Tiller doesn't have ‘em, Chip Kelly does.

Two teams, two coaches, and two systems with common goals, but one team, one coach, and one system will prevail.

Who's your money on?


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