These two innovators have been able to tweak their offenses to adapt to the personnel they inherit, and/or to the players they recruit. The success or failure of both offenses lies in the hands (or arms) of the quarterback. Indeed, the QB is paramount to the success by “reading” the defense. This holds true whether it is a run or pass play, whether the reads are before or after the snap.
In Rodriguez’s spread option, the QB will usually execute a read of a defensive player. Based on that read, the QB will hand the ball to a running back or keep the ball himself. In theory the defensive player cannot commit to both players. Many teams will attempt to load the box (as discussed in previous articles) to gain a numerical advantage while being able to defend the running back “give” or the QB “keep.”
When this occurs, the QB can throw it out to a wide receiver because the offense now has a numerical and spacing advantage out on the perimeter. This actually becomes a true form of the triple option offense; Give, Keep or Throw! Usually the wide receiver runs a bubble screen or a hitch screen: quick hitters so the QB can get the ball out of his hands ASAP.
Rodriguez’ option attack (and related versions) is currently one of the most popular offenses in college and high school football. NFL teams are also adopting elements of this offense into their game plans. During my tenure at Oregon when we were implementing our version of the spread option, Gary Crowton and Chip Kelly (offensive coordinators) utilized many elements of the West Virginia offense, where Rodriguez coached from 2001-07..
What the Cougs must do to win ...
1. Dividends from the bye week must pay off: Heal up, improve fundamentals, improve special teams, evaluate schematics, plan to exploit Arizona’s weaknesses.
2. Get after Solomon. I sing his praises in just a little bit; but he will only be a freshman once. This is the time for Xavier Cooper (pictured) and the Cougar D to get after him. The Coug d-line has been playing with more confidence of late. They also showed improvement against a strong offensive line in Stanford. They MUST carry this over to this week. Get after him from different and unexpected angles, with corner blitzes and pressure from the safeties. Use multiple looks he has not seen before. He also runs the ball 7-8 times a game and that affords the opportunity to tackle the QB with meaning.
3. Both these programs have the best wide receiver stables in the Pac-12. WSU’s corps must get off to a better start. Meanwhile, the Cougar secondary has to play physically against the Wildcat receivers, making them earn everything they get.
4. If freshman Wildcat running back Nick Wilson (5-10) doesn’t play because of injury, the Coug defense must lower their pad level against five-foot-seven RB Terris Jones-Grigsby. You have to adjust your pad level to the ballcarrier in order to be a successful tackler.
5. Find a way to block LB Scooby Wright. Scooby has the best motor in the Pac-12: he’s like the Energizer Bunny. He shows great instincts and is relentless when he rushes the QB. The Cougs had better assign the RB to him to ensure some double team blocks to keep him away from Connor Halliday. He is the type of player that young players should be watching and learning from on film.
6. Improve on special teams. Hopefully the Cougs have spent some extra practice time in this area over the bye week. Improvement MUST show up against the Wildcats. WSU needs to have the mindset they’re going to make special teams their competitive edge.
Rich Rod, the Master of Adapting his Personnel …
In my opinion, no coach in college football has done a better job of adapting and utilizing his personnel than Rich Rodriguez. While the offensive coordinator at Tulane, he made QB Shaun King a household name in 1998 as the Green Wave finished with a 12-0 record. Ironically, both Leach and Rodriguez interviewed for the Texas Tech job in 1999, with the nod going to Leach.
During his two seasons at Tulane, Rodriguez’ offense was extremely balanced with the edge in run plays at 56 percent. At Clemson his play calling breakdown was 54 percent run, 46 percent pass. Upon taking the head job at West Virginia, he realized he had a slight advantage with his physical and talented offensive line. After his first season, over 70 percent of play calls favored of the run. He also utilized the talents of All-American running back Steve Slanton and the dual threat QB named Patrick White.
It was probably all the challenges he faced at Michigan that has led to his success in Tucson. He had quarterback issues at Michigan, playing three different players in Year One. He played a true freshmen in Year Two. Denard Robinson became his starting QB in Year Three and Michigan ran the ball 70 percent of the time. Many of us in the coaching ranks thought Michigan was turning the corner under Rich Rod. But he was fired after the 2010 season, his third on the job.
At Arizona, Rodriguez has had to play three different, unique QB’s – but he’s produced better results this time around. In his first season he relied on the talents of QB Matt Scott and actually passed the ball 53 percent of the time. The following season he understood the special player he had in running back Ka’Deem Carey. The run pass ratio went up to 63 percent in favor of the run. This brings us to the 2014 Wildcats, led by QB Anu Solomon.
Solomon, playing like a King …
Arizona is passing the ball 53 percent of the time this season. And Solomon has matured as the season has progressed -- he has done an outstanding job in leading the Wildcats to a 5-1 record and No. 15 ranking. He probably benefited from the schedule but credit Rich Rod and QB Coach Rod Smith. Anytime you are playing a freshman or redshirt freshman in the Pac-12, there is reason for concern.
Other than UTSA, he has played very well. Completing 64.5 percent of his passes and posting a 146.5 QB rating (ESPN) against Oregon was extremely impressive. Only two QB’s have defeated the Ducks at Autzen in the last seven years and both were upperclassmen: Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.
Sub Plot of the Chess Game …
Two proud founding fathers going to battle. And the bottom line will be how well the fathers coach their sons. But not necessarily how fast they run, how far they throw or how high they can jump…
Rather, it will depend on how disciplined they will be with their assignments, eliminating turnovers, minimizing penalties and tackling in the open field.
Robin Pflugrad has spent 29 years as a college football coach, and as head coach at Montana was a finalist for the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award as the nation's top FCS coach. From 2001-05 he was an assistant at Washington State, where he served as tight ends coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach. He was an assistant at Arizona State prior to coming to WSU and at Oregon after leaving WSU. He is a graduate of, and former assistant coach at, Portland State. Former WSU head coach and longtime d-coordinator Bill Doba referred to Pflugrad as “The Bulldog” while at WSU, owing to Pflugrad’s attention to detail and passion for recruiting. He and wife Marlene reside in Phoenix, where he is a football consultant for a number of college programs, a college football analyst for Channel 3 KTVX (CBS). His daughter Amanda works in the New York Jets’ online media department while son Aaron enters his second season as an offensive graduate assistant at ASU.