Beating the spread

The spread option is well named. It's spreading throughout college football like kudzu.

"We're seeing it more and more," says Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis, who will face Tim Tebow and Florida's version of the spread Saturday in Gainesville. "Everybody's running a little bit of it. It's become THE offense now."

Why is the spread option so popular? The same the reason the single-wing was the rage in the '30s and '40s ... the same reason the triple-option was a hit in the '60s and '70s: It helps create mismatches and running lanes.

"It gets the numbers right where you can run the football," Chavis notes. "If you can have another running back and call him the quarterback – and he (Tebow) is a fine quarterback – it's like having another running back in the game."

The spread gets its name from the fact the offensive players are spread all over the field. This forces the defense to cover more ground, which provides more room for the offense to operate. The Gators are averaging 54 points per game this year using this system.

"They spread you out," Chavis says, "and you've got to decide if you're going to cover or whether you're going to pack 'em in there to stop the run."

The Vol coordinator says there is "not a lot" of difference in the way Tebow runs the Gators' spread option in 2007 and the way senior quarterback Chris Leak ran it in 2006. The big difference is that Tebow is more comfortable carrying the ball and, as a result, operates from the spread formation more often .

"They didn't run as much option last year as they've shown in these two ball games," Chavis notes. "We'll just see (how much Florida uses it Saturday)."

The Vol coordinator isn't sure what to anticipate from the Gators. That's partly because he didn't get what he expected from them in 2006.

"They played a little different last year than we anticipated," he recalls. "We got a lot of two-tight end surfaces. It wasn't quite as spread last year as advertised."

Complicating matters is the fact Chavis isn't sure what to expect from his defense on Saturday, either. His troops were awful in Game 1 and the first half of Game 2 before playing an excellent second half vs. Southern Miss last Saturday.

The coordinator had hoped to get a look at Florida's offensive schemes and tendencies in Games 1 and 2. Both games were blowout wins, however, so they didn't provide much help in terms of scouting the Gators.

"They were really vanilla in the first two games ... didn't have to do a whole lot," Chavis says. "We're just going to have to see how they play us. Based on the way we've played defense, they may be vanilla against us, too."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories