``It's a different game – a different game,'' says Dave Levy of the spread offense Oregon used to destroy USC, 47-20, at Eugene on Saturday night.
Levy was an assistant head coach and chief of staff while serving 16 seasons under John McKay at USC, then coached at Detroit (offensive coordinator) and San Diego of the National Football League, Calgary of the Canadian Football League. Amsterdam of NFL Europe and Los Angeles of the XFL. He currently serves as a volunteer assistant at Harvard-Westlake.
``Facing such an offense would drive an NFL defensive coordinator nuts,'' Levy says.. ``They're geared to stop only a quarterback who passes and a running back who runs, not one back who can do both.''
Whether the spread, which is also employed by national champion Florida, Michigan, West Virginia and a few other Division 1 schools, is the wave of the future in college football, Levy isn't prepared to say.
``We see it all the time in high school football, but not in the NFL,'' he says. "For a good reason. The quarterbacks get so much money in the NFL, the teams don't want to take a chance of them running like the Oregon guy does and getting hurt. In the spread, quarterbacks get hit 15 to 20 percent of the time. The pros don't like that."
So what do college defensive coordinators need to change in their schemes to stop the spread the way Oregon runs it?
"Important changes in the deployment and thinking of defenders facing the spread are a necessity,'' Levy stresses. "The spread is designed to eliminate or limit pursuit by defenders and eliminate or limit gang-tackling. To defend against the spread, you can't go all-out after the quarterback because they are other options for him – so much crossing action and, if he can pass, look out."
And Levy elaborated on his opinion on how to defend the spread offense.
"The key is – stay at home and stay in your assigned area," Levy said. "If you do this, the quarterback won't have all those openings in which to run or open receivers to throw to. But it's hard for young players to have that kind of discipline, especially when they're playing a different kind of offense in the other games. You know, they're taught to tee off. Defending this offense, it's not so much hit-em as it is stay-here. Stay-there. The thing of it is – you tee off against the spread and you think the runner is going one way. Turns out he's going the other way. You have to have discipline—stay where you're supposed to be. You can't plan on a lot of gang-tackling."
Mike Bellotti and Oregon have been running a form of the spread for a decade now, so why is Chip Kelly's version much more prolific against teams like USC that normally limit their opponent's offensive production?
"Oregon has been running some form of the option for almost 10 years, but this guy (Masoli) takes it to a whole new level," said Levy. "He can run AND pass, just like the single-wing left hacks used to. Now, he might not be a great passer, but sometimes his receivers are so wide open he doesn't have to be a great passer.
USC fans and the media have talked about the poor tackling by the Trojans Saturday night, and there is a case to made that they are right, but Levy said there's a reason for that appearance.
"Sure, the tackling looked poor by the Trojans, but that's because there weren't four guys making the tackles," Levy said. "Against the option, you maybe get one guy with a shot at a tackle, and he'd better make good. And you can't pressure the quarterback. Against the option, a defensive player has to read in a hurry whether it's pass or run.
"It's just a different game. Just a different game."
How are the Trojans different?
"Well, the Trojans play Sunday football – with a runner and a drop-back passer, and they executive it very well," said Levy. "You can't criticize Pete Carroll, considering what he's accomplished."
Levy knows all too well what it's like to be criticized, despite USC winning four National Championships while he was working with McKay. But we asked him what we can expect to see next year when the teams meet away from Oregon's comfort of Autzen Stadium? It should be noted Pete Carroll has never lost to Oregon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
"The game will be at the Coliseum on grass and that will slow the game down a little," said Levy. "And SC will have a chance to see plenty of film. I watched the Boise State-Oregon game (won by Boise State) and I think Oregon didn't have the benefit of seeing on film what Boise State could do or might do on defense in certain situations."
Worrying about next year is the last things the USC football team should be worried about, the Trojans should be worried about one game at a time, beating Arizona St. next Saturday, winning the remainder of their games and not playing a bowl game in December in El Paso or Las Vegas. If the Trojans are able to win out, an at-large-BCS Bowl bid is still a possibility, but USC will need to win out and get a lot of help from teams ranked ahead of them for that scenario to play out.