- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
At West Virginia the sting of running back Steve Slaton's decision to bolt early for the NFL will be soothed by sophomore Noel Devine, a 5'8", 173-pound dynamo whose stepfather, Mark Carter, describes his running style this way: "He goes Matrix on 'em!" Devine's dramatic burst, sharp cuts and Houdini-like escapes were on display last January in the Mountaineers' Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma. Devine carried 13 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with 243 all-purpose yards.
But the nation's most electrifying playmakers will line up at wide receiver—and occasionally in the slot or the backfield, and once in a blue moon at quarterback to take a direct snap—at Missouri and Florida. The Tigers' Jeremy Maclin was the only player in the country last season to score touchdowns four ways: receiving (nine), rushing (four), and returning punts (two) and kickoffs (one). His 2,776 all-purpose yards were an NCAA freshman record.
Meyer hasn't had a star running back in his first three seasons at Florida. Then again, with Percy Harvin, who's listed as a wide receiver on the depth chart, the Gators haven't needed one. Perpetually in motion and routinely taking handoffs out of the wingback spot, the junior rushed for nearly as many yards in two seasons (1,192) as he gained receiving (1,285). Harvin is proof that Meyer doesn't care how his playmakers get the ball in space, so long as they do.
IN EARLY October 2003 Meyer's Utah team upset Oregon and was on its way to a 10--2 record and No. 21 ranking. Noting the confusion sown throughout his defense by the Utes' spread-option attack, Ducks coach Mike Bellotti told himself, There's something to this. In 2005 he brought in Gary Crowton, a spread specialist who'd just been forced out as the coach at BYU, as offensive coordinator; the Ducks averaged 34.5 points and 438.8 yards per game in his first year. When Crowton was lured to LSU after the '06 season, Bellotti entrusted the job to a 43-year-old from, of all places, New Hampshire—yes, Chip Kelly. With hesitation, Kelly handed the reins of the offense to dual-threat quarterback Dennis Dixon, who had shared time at quarterback as a sophomore and a junior.
Oregon's 2007 season showcased the spread option's limitless promise and the risk of not having a capable backup. Exploiting the sorcery of Dixon, the Ducks averaged 510.6 yards and 42.8 points over their first nine games. But on a mid-November night in the desert, Oregon's dream season ended when Dixon blew out his left knee in the first quarter against unranked Arizona. He was replaced by Brady Leaf, a gritty but plodding drop-back passer unsuited for Kelly's offense. The Ducks lost that game and their next two, free-falling from a probable berth in the BCS title game (had they won their last three games) to the Sun Bowl, where freshman quarterback Justin Roper threw four touchdowns passes in a 56--21 rout of South Florida.
In a pro-style offense, games can be won with a caretaker quarterback, a guy who hands off and completes a dozen or so throws to keep the defense honest. The triggermen of successful spread attacks—"the bedazzlers," as SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace describes the likes of Tebow, Daniel, Harrell and White—are harder to replace.
That's the main reason the spread-option has failed to take root in the NFL (box, page 64): When your quarterback is operating behind minimal pass protection and, at times, like a running back, it's not a question of if he gets hurt, but when. And as Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, for six years the coach of the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, points out, NFL rosters typically boast enough fleet, athletic defensive backs to match up against four- and five-receiver sets. That's often not the case at the high school and college levels, which leads to the mismatches that are the lifeblood of any spread.
So multiple and fluid are the offshoots of the spread—"as different as the wishbone and the power-I," says Dodge—that defensive coordinators have a tough time stopping them week in and week out (page 62). No wonder Dodge says, "The spread is here to stay."
And don't believe Mouse Davis when he says, "Maybe we'll come out this season with two tight ends and a full-house backfield. Whaddya think?"