In football, schemes and philosophies flow both ways – up and down. They seem to work no matter which direction the latest brainstorming ideas comes from.
Years ago the wishbone offense was in vogue. Pretty soon those ground-hugging were bullying defenses. Defenses caught up by “stacking” bodies close to the line of scrimmage. Most wishbone teams were unproductive due to the shift in defensive thinking because they forgot how to throw a pass.
Wishbone teams slowly became a football memory.
Over time offenses adapted and play-calling gurus migrated to more passing out of pro-style alignments. Then coordinators decided to spread the field to create “space” for fleet-footed receivers and turn short receptions into long gainers.
Today’s high-octane offenses not only spread the field but have added a breathtaking tempo that draws comparisons to playing fast-break basketball on grass.
Many teams have forsaken the traditional huddle because it’s far more time-consuming for their craving to get a staggering amount of plays off in a single game. Combine all the speed-up ideas and you get a fast-paced attack that challenges the ability of defensive players to keep their legs from becoming as limp as cooked spaghetti noodles.
Mac Bryan, who spent three years at UT-Martin as co-offensive coordinator before being hired as Ooltewah’s new coach on March 7, employs the spread offense and promises the Owl’s pace of getting off plays will quicken this season.
Spread offenses strive to make playing defense a nightmare and score more points than imaginable.
Then, there is that other objective.
“We’d like to tire you out on defense,” Bryan said
It used to be that college teams could run 40-60 plays per game, but that number has soared in recent years.
In 2010, Oregon 78.8 snaps per game. The Ducks played Auburn in the national championship game and ran 73 plays. The Tigers ran 85 plays, completed a smashing 14-0 season and walked off with the title.
For the season Auburn averaged 67.7 plays per game and forced other Southeastern Conference teams to retool their own plodding offenses.
Two years later, and without Cam Newton, Auburn slowed its offense down and ran an average of 57.4 per game. The Tigers went 3-9.
The Ducks ran 1,058 plays in 2012 – that’s 81.4 per game – and finished 12-1 in coach Chip Kelly’s final season before he bolted for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
Bryan, who gave a hint of his offensive philosophy in 1986 at Lees McRae College when, as head coach and offensive coordinator, picked up on the one-back set long before it was in vogue.
“We copied the Washington Redskins when Joe Gibbs was up there with that H-back running scheme,” Bryan said. “Then we went to the spread and by the mid-90s when I was at Spartanburg (Boiling Springs High School) we quit huddling and haven’t huddled since.
“And what I’m seeing now on tape at the high school level, there is more and more spread, no-huddle stuff. These offenses mimic the college game in a lot of ways.”
Bryan, who has gone back-and-forth between high school and college coaching over his career, helped make UT-Martin an offensive power within the Ohio Valley Conference during his three seasons there.
From 2010-12, the Skyhawks averaged 416.6 yards of total offense and ran 71.1 plays per game. Last season UTM went 8-3, put up 429.3 total yards per game and ranked third in the OVC. Fifth-year quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,276 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
Bryan’s offensive approach won’t be a lot different at Ooltewah than it was at UTM, but the way defenses play the Owls on a week-to-week basis could sway how the coach operates from the sideline.
“I had a high school team in 2005 (Emerald High in Greenwood, S.C.) and there were times I didn’t call but two or three runs a game and we threw it almost every play,” Bryan said. “I had (good) wide receivers and quarterbacks. I had a year where we ended up running 60 percent of the time out of a one-back set because that’s where the talent was.”
In his first year with the Owls, who went 9-4 and three games deep into the Class 5A playoffs, Bryan is blessed to have a strong-armed quarterback in Brody Binder, a high-stepping tailback with power and speed in Desmond Pittman and a sure-handed receiver in Mike Williams.
Those assets give Bryan the green flag to do his thing.
“The quarterback is a key piece of the spread puzzle,” Bryan said. “A good back is a key piece and if can get a few (receivers) to catch and run you’ve got a chance to do some good things. I will tell you, as an offensive line coach, it helps if you’ve got an offensive line that can block.”
Pittman rushed for 1,476 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. Binder threw for 1,326 yards and 15 scores. Williams far and away was the Owls’ leading receiver with 37 receptions for 722 yards and nine of the team’s 14 touchdown catches.
The offensive line did a solid job opening holes that paved the way for 2,533 rushing yards, or 194.8 per game.
This season seniors David Nobles and Dalton Johnson are “really good” with “lots of experience” on the left side, Bryan said. Chris Dyess is penciled in at center and Dennis Lyle and Cadarrius Hubbard are potential starters on the right side.
“We’re not huge up front, but we’re athletic,” the coach said. “We’re all in the 228 to 240 range up there. I’d rather have foot speed than larger guys that can’t move. Hey, I will take 275-pound guys if they can move.
“I believe we need athleticism everywhere we can get it. I think that’s what the game has become. When you spread the field out it’s all about playing in space.”
To better utilize Pittman, Bryan plans to get the 5-foot-11-inch, 245-pound back more involved in the passing game. Pittman did not catch a pass in 2012, but that’s about to change.
Another adjustment Bryan wants to see is Binder’s completion percentage – he wants it to climb much higher – although he understands why the two-sport star’s numbers were low in his junior season.
“They were throwing more home-run balls because of the running game,” Bryan said. “Last year was more about play-action and hitting the deep ball to keep (defenses) backed off so Desmond could run the football.”
Binder, who plans to play baseball at Troy (Ala.) University after completing his high school eligibility, completed 87-of-204 passes, connecting on just 42.6 percent of his throws. He threw to 11 different receivers.
But accuracy is paramount with spread offenses.
At UTM, Carr started three seasons and never completed fewer than 57.7 percent of his passes, with a high of 63.6 while throwing for 3,276 yards and 31 touchdowns in his third season at the helm. Receivers Quentin Sims and Jeremy Butler combined for 137 catches for 1,842 yards and 26 scores. Sims had 1,092 receiving yards.
“I would have loved to have Brody in this system for three years,” Bryan said. “He’s extremely talented and can make all the throws. But I’d like to see him around 65 percent on his completions.
“Of course, any quarterback has to have the balls he throws caught. He can put it there, but (receivers) have to catch it.”
In an age of instant information on the internet, Bryan’s coaching reputation preceded him to Ooltewah and new District 5-3A foes will know what to expect.
“When I was at Martin I didn’t recruit the Chattanooga area because I spent a lot of time in Nashville and North Alabama,” Bryan said. “I do know it’s a very competitive district and I don’t think anybody has dominated the area since Cleveland with Benny Monroe.
“I’ve seen a couple teams in seven-on-seven play and they looked pretty good.”
Monroe, who also coached at Ooltewah for five years, won successive Class 4A state titles in 1993-95 and at one time had a 54-game winning streak.
The Owls have reached the state playoffs in 11 of the past 13 years, missing out in 2003 and 2010.
While Bryan is heavily experienced on the offensive side of scrimmage, he’s turned the defense over to veteran Doug Greene, who is starting his second stint as the Owls’ coordinator.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)