'Spread' Too Thin

Four of college football's top six offensive teams are currently in the Big 12 Conference. That's just part of the reason Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said his job is now more difficult than his previous stint in the NFL.

"The hardest thing about being a (collegiate) defensive coordinator nowadays is that every week you're facing something totally different," Muschamp said, a former Miami Dolphins assistant. "There's not a whole lot of carry-over, week-to-week, based on what you see. Offenses, however, are seeing the same stuff every week and they get good at their repetitions. The repetitions are what make you good at what you do. Every week, we try to tweak what we do defensively. We've got a base, but we try to tweak what we do to match what we're going to see. That's hard on defensive players, and that's why I think we're seeing the numbers we're seeing nowadays."

The "numbers" can be skewed during the first three weeks of the season, but the list of the nation's top offensive units basically reads like Texas' October slate: Missouri leads the nation in total offense (597.3 ypg) followed by Texas Tech (584.3 ypg). Oklahoma is No. 5 in total offense (556.6) while Oklahoma State is No. 6 (546.0 ypg). This week, Texas ranks No. 25 in total offense (453.0). It's no surprise that these teams also rank in the Top 10 in scoring this week, each lighting up the scoreboard at 50+ ppg. Texas checks in at No. 10 (47 ppg).

"You can't call the same defense against a two-back team as you do an empty (set) team," Muschamp said. "You just can't do it. You've got to be multiple enough, and you've got to introduce enough to your players at camp that will cover you for the season regardless of what you're going to see and what you're going to do. The more reps they get, the better they're going to be. The hardest thing for defensive coaches is the daily routine of installing a particular defense because you face a particular offense. In the NFL, it's all the same offense. It's much easier. Some of the guys playing college football now will never see a Zone Read in the NFL. The owner is paying the quarterback $8 million and, if the quarterback gets hurt, the owner is going to walk down to the offensive coordinator and ask why they're running the Zone Read."

Muschamp, of course, spends much of his days (and nights) scheming for variations of the spread offense that have trickled-up from the high school ranks (and trickled over from Rich Rodriguez's early days at West Virginia). There has been so much proliferation of the scheme throughout college football that Muschamp did not give it a second thought just five years ago when his LSU defense stonewalled Oklahoma in BCS National Championship game.

"We were setting our defensive installation schedule during my last year (2004) at LSU," Muschamp recalled. "I went back to the previous season, and that was when the one-back spread was coming into sight. I looked at our installation schedule for '21' personnel and I went to (coach) Nick (Saban) and told him, 'We're going to rep this about 50 times for the whole season and we've got 84 calls. It just doesn't make any sense.' That's when you start to realize the number of reps compared to the installation you're going to spend in training camp and spring ball. That's when it dawned on me that we were spending a lot of time on something you're not going to see a lot of anymore."

Muschamp left Auburn about the time his former program was making the transition to the spread (the immediate result was all of three points scored Saturday at Mississippi State). Still, many pigskin pundits have asked if modern-day defenses have evolved fast enough to keep up with the spread.

"We've played pretty good against it," Muschamp said. "When you look at the spread teams, you stop the run and you tackle in space. If you can make plays in space, then you've got a chance, because teams that run the spread effectively are those that create space. If you have a good quarterback, two good wideouts and a decent little back, you can run the spread. You're not asking the offensive line to sit back and do a lot of different stuff. The running game is pretty simple. You don't have to have a collection of big-time athletes in order to execute. Right now, everybody has a good quarterback because all these kids are going to seven-on-sevens as early as the sixth grade. They're effective; they can throw the ball well. They can read defenses. They're used to it. The more and more kids do that, the better these offenses are going to continue to get."

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