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THE LOUISVILLE POWER/SPREAD ATTACK

The captain: Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, 45.


The philosophy: "The first thing our offense is about is utilizing our weapons," says
Petrino. "We have a philosophy that we call 'FTS' -- Feed the Studs. We want to get the
ball to our best players and make sure we utilize the guys who can go out and make
plays."
The system: The Cardinals, more of a finesse, spread-passing team under predecessor
John L. Smith (for whom Petrino was the original offensive coordinator), have evolved
into an extremely balanced unit that spends about two-thirds of a game in modern, spread
formations (either zero or one back and four or five receivers) and the other third running
traditional, power-I football. "Basically, I believe if you're ever going to win a national
championship, you have to be able to run the football in the second half," says Petrino.
"We don't just run the spread. We have the ability to run the ball downhill." With an
extensive array of personnel groupings, Louisville is also able to run the same play out of
as many as 10 different formations, creating confusion for the defense.
The results: Petrino has gone 20-5 in two seasons, including an 11-1 record last year that
netted the Cardinals a season-ending No. 6 ranking. Last year, Louisville led the country
in both points (49.8) and yards (539.0) per game, set an NCAA record by scoring 55 or
more points in five straight games and was the only team in the country to rank in the top
10 in both rushing offense (250.4 yards per game) and passing offense (288.6). The
Cardinals also led the nation in total offense during Petrino's one season as coordinator
under Smith (1998).
Influences: Petrino learned the ropes working for his father, NAIA Hall of Famer Bob
Petrino, at Carroll College in Montana. The elder Petrino's teams used the option and QB
audibles to outsmart defenses. The roots of Bobby's spread philosophy took hold in the
early '90s when, as offensive coordinator at Idaho under Smith, he studied Dennis
Erickson's schemes at Miami. Petrino's interest in power running was piqued during
subsequent jobs with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Auburn, and over the past couple
of years he has also incorporated play-action elements from the Indianapolis Colts.
Why it works: Blessed recently with not only exceptional quarterbacks (Stefan
LeFors, Brian Brohm) and receivers (J.R. Russell) but an abundance of bruising tailbacks
(Eric Shelton, Michael Bush), Louisville has been able to mount an extremely balanced

attack in which, ideally, it both runs and passes for more than 250 yards per game. While
the Cardinals spent most of last season whipping up on hapless Conference USA
opponents (they move to the Big East this year), Petrino's offense gained major validation
when it torched Miami's normally dominant defense for 507 yards in a nail-biting, 41-38
loss. "I think what Louisville is doing is as good as anyone, moving it up and down on
people," says South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. "I really admire what [Petrino] is
doing."
How to stop it: The biggest key is slowing down Louisville's rushing attack, which
requires a dominant defensive line as well as smart linebackers and defensive backs. If a
defense can keep the Cardinals' tailbacks from breaking off big runs and force them into
second or third-and-long situations, it'll be better able to effectively blitz the quarterback,
who is usually so well-coached that, if given too much time, will find the open receiver
more often than not (LeFors completed nearly 74 percent of his passes last season).

THE URBAN MEYER SPREAD OPTION


The captain: Florida head coach Urban Meyer, 41.
The philosophy: "You want to force the defense to defend the whole field," says Meyer.
"All things being equal, anybody can stop the run and anybody can stop the pass. But can
you stop both?"
The system: Meyer's 12-0 Fiesta Bowl team at Utah last season lined up almost
exclusively in the shotgun with either one or no running backs and four or five receivers.
Players shifted and went into motion prior to the snap on almost every play. The base
play was a "zone read" in which, after reading the defense, the quarterback could either
hand off to the tailback on a counter or keep it himself. The unique scheme mixes spread
passing -- with an emphasis on short, high-percentage throws -- and old-school option
football, including a modernized "triple-option" play in which the quarterback runs along
the line and either pitches to the motion receiver or tosses a forward shovel pass to the
tailback or another receiver.
The results: During his four seasons as head at coach at Bowling Green and Utah,
Meyer's teams went 39-8 and improved by an average of 5.5 wins in his first seasons
there. Last year's Utah team finished third nationally in both scoring (45.3 points per
game) and total offense (499.8 yards), while Meyer's 2002 Bowling Green team ranked
third in scoring (40.9) and ninth in total offense (448.9).
Influences: While the Ohio native grew up on the traditional power-I styles of Ohio State
and Notre Dame, Meyer developed an interest in the more modern, one-back offense as
an assistant at Colorado State from 1990-95. While the receivers coach at Notre Dame

('96-2000), he studied Louisville's spread offense and, later, the run-oriented versions
practiced by Northwestern and Clemson, which he used as the basis of his own offense
upon arriving at Bowling Green in 2001.
Why it works: By spreading the field with four or five receivers, Meyer forces defenses
to adjust their personnel accordingly, often leaving them soft against the run, and both the
quarterback's quick release and the threat of the option limits defenses' opportunities to
blitz. "They don't ever let a defense get very set or aggressive in what they're doing to
counter it," says Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. The extensive use of
shifting, motion and reverses means that the offense can run nearly any play out of any
formation. "We have built-in misdirection," says Meyer, "because on every play, the
quarterback is going one way and the running back is going the other."
How to stop it: Defenses have to master their assignments and exercise extreme patience
so as not to fall for any of Meyer's tricks and misdirection. The defense needs
cornerbacks and safeties that can lock up the receivers, and the linebackers and safeties
have to be "option-sound," particularly against the threat of the shovel pass. Some
question whether Meyer's system can be as successful against the faster defenses of the
SEC, but it all comes down to having a quarterback (like Utah's Alex Smith) who can
master the scheme and make the appropriate decisions.

THE TEXAS TECH AERIAL ASSAULT

The philosophy: "Distributing the ball to all the different skill players is our biggest
emphasis," says Leach. "We're not a team that hands it to one guy and throws it to
two. We want all five skill positions to touch the ball."
The system: The Red Raiders spread the field and throw early and often, usually with
short, high-percentage passes but also with a fair share of deep balls. The tailback
touches the ball as frequently as in any other offense, but often a traditional run play is
replaced by a screen pass out of the backfield. "If I throw to a guy and he gets 5 yards,
how is that different than if I hand to a guy and he gets 5?" says Leach. "Balance is if
you get contributions out of all your skill players, it's not how many runs or how
many passes." Techs playbook is fairly simple -- it includes about 60 plays per game
-- and the constant repetition in practice allows players to execute them to perfection.
The results: Leach's Texas Tech teams have led the nation in passing each of the past
three seasons, with the three starting quarterbacks -- Kliff Kingsbury (5,017 yards in
2002), B.J. Symons (5,833 in '03) and Sonny Cumbie (4,742) -- accounting for three
of the six highest passing seasons in Division I-A history. Last season the Red Raiders
went 9-4, upsetting fourth-ranked Cal 45-31 in the Holiday Bowl.
Influences: Leach, who developed the system in tandem with former boss Hal
Mumme during stops at Iowa Wesleyan (1989-91), Valdosta State ('92-'96) and
Kentucky ('97-'98), credits the LaVell Edwards/Norm Chow BYU passing attack from
the 1980s as his biggest influence. He also draws elements from the Bill Walsh West
Coast offense, the Mouse Davis Run and Shoot and, believe it or not, the oldfashioned wishbone.
Why it works: By attacking all areas of the field and spreading the ball among all
available skill positions (five different players caught at least 43 passes last season,
including tailback Taurean Henderson), Leach's teams keep defenses constantly
guessing where the Raiders are going to strike next. The screen pass has proven to be
a particularly effective weapon, both in sustaining drives and loosening up the defense
for subsequent deep strikes. "For whatever reason, screens tend to gas a defense more
than the offense," says Leach. "And if they're going to blitz, it helps keep them honest
so you can run your other stuff."
How to stop it: Texas Tech has hardly been invincible under Leach -- it has lost at
least four games a season -- and has been less effective against fast, athletic defenses
such as Oklahoma's and Ohio State's. In the games where the Red Raiders offense has
struggled, the opposing defense has usually been unafraid to blitz relentlessly, often
resulting in numerous sacks or interceptions. Doing so is a dangerous proposition,
though; because of the constant threat the quarterback will dump off to the tailback, so
some foes take the exact opposite approach and drop as many defenders as possible
into pass coverage.