- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Let me see if I understand this correctly. En route to professional employment, a young man plays seven or eight years of organized, even sophisticated, high school and college football. He is instructed by legions of coaches in everything from a blown coverage to a blown nose. Then, at last, he becomes a pro. And what happens? Why, he's made to play a Different Game, of course. He enters the exclusive world of the NFL and its highly technical, excruciatingly complicated renditions of Passball. All the inferior coaching that has developed him is now sublimated as the real "brains" of football take over his life.
Pro football advocates have been fed a steady diet of this baloney for so many years, it's probably only natural that they discharge it so readily. But it still comes out baloney. Pro teams pass more because they have, per capita, better passers and better receivers—the best that the colleges have developed for them. Period. There's no mystery to that. The mystery is why they don't run better for the exact same reasons.
But to tie up a loose end or two. First, the droll notion that college coaches as a group (Woody Hayes doesn't count) are by nature and circumstance so desperately conservative that the only pass they recognize is the one that gets them a free ride to Bermuda. The passing game started with the colleges. It has been refined a hundred ways by college coaches. Today, San Diego State's Doug Scovil could teach the finer points to most of the household no-names who coach pro teams; the passing tenets of the late Wally Butts of Georgia are still taught at all levels. There is nothing the pros do passing the football that the college coaches haven't tried. The reason more of them don't pass as often is simple. Excellent passers are hard to find.
It's also ironic that the pro advocate includes Bear Bryant among those who "don't build [their] offense around a passer, no matter how talented he is." Where does he think Ken Stabler came from? Abercrombie & Fitch? How about Richard Todd? And, when Bryant was at Kentucky, George Blanda and Babe Parilli? Under whose tutelage does he think the great Namath got so famous in the first place?
College coaches like Bryant build around the available talent, and running talent just happens to be more abundant than passing talent. They adjust to it, change offensive deployments and strategies to make it go.
All the truly memorable "offensive" football games I've seen have been college games. (The real offensive stinkers, conversely, have been mostly called Super Bowls.) One year when Bryant did have a fine passer, Steve Sloan, his Alabama team played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. (Anybody here see a patsy?) Alabama passed for 296 yards that night, ran for 222 (for a 518-yard total) and won 39-28. Year before last, as USC beat Notre Dame in South Bend 42-23, Charles White rushed for 261 of USC's 280 rushing yards and Vagas Ferguson 185 of Notre Dame's 249. USC passed for 311, Notre Dame 286. The grand total of total offense for the day: 1,126 yards. The pros don't get that many in a week of dummy scrimmage.
Do offensive explosions like this happen all the time? Of course not. But they happen often enough to make you wonder, and not as infrequently as the pro advocate would like to have you believe. Last year Notre Dame rushed for 405 against Michigan State, Alabama 458 vs. Ole Miss, Nebraska 287 vs. Penn State, Penn State 351 vs. Ohio State, etc. No, formations alone don't win football games. But coaches—even pro coaches—don't spend hour after hour, day after day, devising and revising and scheming over whom to put where and in which direction without a reason, and the reason is that the slightest edge in concept and design might win the day if you're close to being equal. But show me, please, the pro team that has even tried the veer for more than a minute or two. The wishbone. The option I.
And, no, most of the pro geniuses aren't likely to ever embrace the option play because it is hairy and can lump up their high-paid quarterbacks. But just as it is absurd to suggest that college quarterbacks make so much yardage on busted plays that they offset the losses taken on sacks, so is it obvious to say that some of the most thrilling moments in football, pro or college, are gleaned from busted plays, with bodies strewn all over the field and a good runner taking advantage. Surely it beats watching a 30-year-old man make safety-first slides to avoid being tackled. Sooner or later the pro coaches will have to come to grips with the option, because option quarterbacks are about the only thing they're getting from the colleges these days. They'll have to adjust, or they'll have to coach. Don Shula is doing both now with David Woodley, and revamping Miami's offense. "Shula," says an ex-Dolphin employee, "is so good he could coach in the Big Eight."
But to bring the argument to a tidier conclusion, forget for a moment that the colleges even play football and ask yourself: If the pros don't run the football very well, why? If they're so sure Passball is the only way to go, why don't they just draft wide receivers and big blocking backs (converted guards would do) and quit cluttering up the field with runners who don't run anymore?