Defenses will catch up to the spread – one day

Published 7:13 pm Saturday, August 9, 2008

It’s time for more thoughts on the upcoming season of Southeastern Conference football. One of the most common topics about the college game (and the high school game) recently has been the spread offense. It’s here to stay, proponents claim, and it’s unstoppable. Hal Mumme brought the offense to the SEC during his Kentucky tenure, and now Florida coach Urban Meyer – a disciple of the father of the spread, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez – and Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin – a Mumme disciple – have made it almost a standard attack.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify: the “spread offense” isn’t really an offense at all anymore because there are so many variations. What is meant by the term is simply an offense that, you guessed it, spreads a defense out with a multitude of receivers and wider-than-normal linemen splits. These up-tempo attacks also usually employ the shotgun more often than not.

Now that’s out of the way, can it be stopped? I wasn’t around, but I’m guessing people also used to ask the same question about the wishbone. How many teams run that these days?

The first difficulty spread offenses present defenses is the pace. Large linebackers and larger defensive linemen wear down when they’re used to defending 60 plays a game and, all of a sudden, they have to defend 90. As a result, coaches will start recruiting smaller, faster defenders and more of them so that starters get more breaks through the course of a game.

Another problem the spread causes is from a preparation standpoint. When a defense faces a certain offensive scheme only once or twice each year, the defense will not be as well prepared. The problem for the teams that run the spread is that their ranks grow every year. Before long, preparing for a spread attack will be the rule for defenses on a weekly basis instead of the exception.

So, the success of the spread in recent years doesn’t exactly mean offenses will hold an advantage over defenses until the end of time. The defenders will catch up. In the mean time, though, look for Meyer, Franklin and all the other spread gurus to have a lot of fun.