This is the second part of a three part series. This article looks at why Missouri is so effective with their version of the spread and how the differ from Texas Tech under Mike Leach. We pay particular attention to Missouri's phenomenal quarterback Chase Daniel.
In part one we started with a basic definition of the spread offense, an introduction to the theory behind it, and how it's evolved from the late 90's to today.
Part three looks at how Nebraska (or anyone for that matter) can defend against the spread offense, but particularly against Missouri.
The expertise for this article is provided by Beergut of the Texas A&M blog I Am The 12th Man.
Why is Missouri's spread so effective?
Well, the easy answer to that question is Chase Daniel. Daniel has been running this offense since high school, and is now like a maestro leading an orchestra he's been the head of for twenty years. (The statement many make that Daniel ran this offense in middle school is incorrect; he went to middle school in Irving, TX; he transferred to Southlake for high school.) You'll notice that Missouri struggled the first year they went with this scheme, when Brad Smith was there. It will be interesting to see how Missouri performs after he is gone.
The technical answer is a little more complicated. The spread offense depends on counting. I had Phil Bennett tell me that spread offenses count the numbers in the box, and if it is 5 or fewer, they run, and 7 or more, they pass. It is a little more complicated than that. The QB comes to the line of scrimmage (LOS), and looks at the secondary box.
With 10 personnel on the field, you automatically know there are going to be people covering the four wide receivers in the formation, it is just a question of who is covering where. Likewise, there will be people on the DL and at LB to stop the running game, you just have to count the secondary to figure out who is where. If the QB sees Cover 0, meaning no one is in the deep middle of the field, it is a good bet both CBs and safeties are covering the WRs, and the LBs are in the box to stop the run, so there is no deep help. The QB will automatically pass, most likely going with the post route, to take advantage of the hole in the deep middle of the defense.
If the QB sees Cover 1, or 1 safety back deep, he can either run or pass the ball. Cover 1 means there is most likely 6 in the box, 4 DL and 2 LBs, with the two CBs and one LB out covering the receivers. The QB can either pass to the receiver being covered by the LB, if he likes that mismatch, or he can trust his OL to take care of the 3 DL and 2 LBs (leave backside DE unblocked) and go with the zone read one-back option game. Or, the WR covered by the LB can draw deep help from the safety, leaving another receiver open deep.
If the QB sees Cover 2, or two safeties providing deep help, he is going to run the ball. Cover 2 means the CBs have the outside receivers, the weakside and strongside LBs are covering slot receivers, and there is only one LB and 4 DL to stop 5 offensive linemen and the QB and RB. With a 7-to-5 advantage, the QB will go with the run.
How does this apply to Chase Daniel? Well, he can make these reads in his sleep.
At Southlake Carroll, they also used 21 personnel in their spread, but always showed 10 personnel. The offense was no-huddle, with coaches making the playcall from the sideline. The offense would come out in their base formation, with four WRs split wide, and one RB next to the QB, who was in the shotgun.
If the coaches saw Cover 2, they would signal in a running play to the offense. The offense would shift, with one WR now lining up at TE, and one moving into the backfield at FB, as the QB went under center, and the offense moved into the I-formation. Now, the offense could run Iso from the I, or run their triple option. These options made it so that no matter what the defense did to stop their offense, their answer was always wrong.
Missouri added to their scheme last season, splitting the OL out wider, increasing the time it takes for the DEs to get to the QB, similar to what Texas Tech does. They also put Daniel in a deeper alignment, putting him 7 yds behind center, which is the same depth the TB has in the I-formation. This made it easier for Daniel to see the blitz coming at him, and made it take longer for the defense to reach him. This also limits the shotgun run game somewhat, because it takes them longer to reach the LOS, but that was a trade-off Missouri was willing to make. It has worked for them so far. I haven't watched too much of Missouri this season, but if they ever decide to add Orbit motion with Maclin to attack the outside with the option, the Big 12 is in trouble.
Missouri's offense aims to make you cover every inch of the field with your defense, by forcing you to account for their passing game, and their option running game on every play.
How is Missouri different from what Mike Leach does at Texas Tech?
Well, Missouri runs what I call a "read spread", in that their QB reads the defense to find the weakness, and then exploits that weakness. Texas Tech runs a a series-based spread, similar to a series-based run offense. If you take away one feature of the series, there are 3-4 other ways to hurt you.
As Nebraska fans, y'all are familiar with the veer option series. You run the fullback dive inside. If the defense commits to stopping the inside run, that leaves them exposed on the edge, so you run option. If the defense brings up their safeties and corners to stop the running game on the edge, you go downfield to your TEs or WRs, because they will be wide open.
In similar fashion, Texas Tech tries to attack your secondary with a series.Let's look at the Shallow Cross series.
If the defense lines up showing Cover 2, or with the safeties on the slot receivers, it is safe to say they want to stop the deep passing game. This leaves the short-middle open. Tech will start their attack by going with H Cross.
If the safeties are still deep or on the receivers, they'll exploit the alignment again by using Y Cross.
Then X Cross, then Z Cross.
If the LBs come up to cover the Shallow zone, they can hit the Dig or Hunt route, which is run by the receiver opposite the receiver running the shallow route, and is often the QB’s first read in the progression.
Just like a series-based running offense, Tech is gambling that you can't cover all areas of the field effectively, and eventually they'll find the hole in your defense, and exploit it. Texas Tech is almost manically committed to the pass, to the detriment of the running game.
While Missouri is content to beat you with the pass or run, Mike Leach would much rather show you how clever his passing game is, and beat you with the pass. This is one of the reasons Texas Tech has consistently been one of the worst running teams in the Big 12 (and nationally), and one of the reasons they never win their division.
Leach also wants his line in those wide, split-T splits, going about 3 yds from center to guard, and 5 yds from guard to tackle on both sides of the line. This makes it difficult for the OL to zone block or get double-teams at the point of attack, which means their running game is more a function of surprise than execution.