(My first post - Please be gentle.)
Someone mentioned the super wide O-line splits we used to run (specifically under Chosen Daniel) in a recent thread. I got all excited because this is something I often blabber on about. Unfortunately for me, no one else shared my enthusiasm and the topic died. I thought I would give it one more shot:
Since the good ole days of 2007, those wonderful splits have seemed to progressively shrink (along with our gaudy stats). I'm not sure why.
As I had moved out to the West Coast and had missed the initial rise of Brad Smith and Mizzou, I was elated to start hearing buzz about the Tigers. I was even more intrigued when I started tuning in and saw this laugh out loud offensive scheme with O-lineman so far apart that it looked almost ridiculous and seemed to defy old-man football logic. But the results were awesome. Here was Mizzou, the perennial conference doormat, humiliating teams that it hadn't beaten since - well, ever. I fell in love with that O. Yeah, the players were great, but the O itself was the real kicker for me.
Sure things would wind up disappointing with the BCS snub in 2007 and the 2008 let down - but it was actually exciting to watch Mizzou football for the first time ever (at least for me). I went to high school in the late 80's/early 90's in St. Louis with no pro or college football to be proud of and became, by then current circumstances, a Notre Dame fan. Loved Rocket Ismail. Say what you want about Notre Dame since, but they were incredibly fun to watch back then. That's what it felt like for me watching Mizzou football for the first time.
So, enough nostalgia. Back to the O-line splits ...
Over the past week or two, I've nagged a few times for someone to explain to me why we left those double-wide O-line splits. (It's Missouri after all, so trailer park pun intended). A few people commented to say : 1) that they were no experts, but that they thought it had to do with lack of talent to run that style of offense, 2) wide splits allowed vulnerability to stunts / shooting the gaps, and 3) another person, who seemed lost in the woods, wanted to scrap the spread altogether and join Vandy in trying to play the Bamas and LSU's of the SEC world at their own game of smash mouth power run football. Meh. I was left wanting.
So, I went on a quest (well more like a google search and scribbled some notes on some scrap paper) to find more satisfying answers. (Not that I didn't appreciate those of you who indulged my opining). What I found increased my new / old obsession with giant-wide splits.
Piggy-backing off of Bill C's recent post regarding the very short window of time that our QB has to see the field, make a decision and get rid of the ball (I believe it ranged from 1.5 to 2.1 seconds), widening the O-line splits would serve a multifold purpose:
1) Simple math: Think back to geometry and the hypotenuse (long side of the triangle). Widening the splits forces the DE's to travel more distance to get to the QB - probably an extra 3-5 feet or about 1-2 steps or more. This could mean an extra half-second to second and a half or more with decent pass-blocking. Much better chance of taking the DE wide/deep into the backfield and out of the play (which opens a running lane and gives the outside to a running QB to take off or for a RB screen. This makes it easier for the QB to focus in on avoiding the DT pass rush or giving him space to take off.
2) Wider splits make the defense defend the whole field / Gives us the power of angles. The top SEC teams are known for not giving an inch in the trenches. Widening the splits: a) gives the O-line better blocking angles instead of getting into bench-pressing contests with guys who outweigh us by 50 lbs, and b) can get the DT's running from side to side much more. If we condition our O-line to be more nimble and athletic (closer to Oregon's) as opposed to massive & NFL-like (like Bama, which is a pipe-dream with our recruiting realities), we can fatigue SEC D-lines and FORCE them to play our game. (Saban was just whining about hurry-up O's in an interview a couple of weeks ago - saying that guys "can get hurt because they are not ready and in position for the next play". I don't know if this was just more of his media mind-games, but it was comically reminiscent of the British complaining about the American Revolutionaries not lining up in rows to be mowed down by their superior army and firepower.)
3) Wide splits create larger running lanes. Go back and look at video from 2007. Tony Temple is running wild in space. Can you imagine if 'Kut-back Kendial' got even an extra foot or two here and there? Add a yard and a half or more to his yards per carry average - even in the SEC. It also makes it a whole lot easier for things to open up for the QB to run.
4) Makes it more likely that defenders have to tackle in space. Granted, the top SEC teams are pretty good at doing this, but still, these are the hardest tackles to make and they get extra yards.
5) Makes it easier to isolate stud defensive players (like Jarvis Jones). They can be seen coming more easily and have further to come off the ends to get to the QB. The wider the splits, the more inviting for defensive stunts and blitzes. The more stunts and blitzes - the more screens, bubbles and shovels work. Pitch and catch + yards after catch. Mizzou football.
6) Opens up throwing lanes. This is HUGE for us. One thing that has seemed almost non-existent this year is the inside passing game. Crossing routes and inside slants and curls seem to never be there and there have been a ton of batted / tipped balls. Widening the splits gives clearer shots for the QB.
If we go back to this type of Grown Man S-P-R-E-A-D, the screen game becomes relevant again - even crucial. We went from actually throwing almost too many bubble screens to now almost none. (I know the WR's are supposedly having blocking issues, but still. You can't tell me that we don't have some WR's that can block. Maybe Lucas and Washington aren't the guys for this, but I know there are still guys on this squad who can throw a decent block. I know Moe and Sasser and even DGB can get in someone's grill.)
In the end, if our O-line keeps insidiously creeping closer and closer to the center and resembling a dyed-in-the-wool SEC line, I think we are in big trouble. Except by some act of God, in which top recruits just start feeling sorry for Mizzou and want to stick it to Nick Saban, we are not going to get the guys who can run that scheme. And I, for one, wouldn't want it anyway. I'm with Big Shel - I don't like Old Man Football. It's boring. Yeah, I said it. I want to see the Spread stick it to Old Man Football. (I'm rooting for Oregon to clash with Bama and a guy named Chip to make a guy named Bear roll in his grave).
We are the rabble of Big-Time College Football. We can't beat Saban and the Tide at their own game. They're like Lord Cornwallis and the gang, only in Crimson coats. We need guerilla warfare to overthrow SEC royalty.
The spread is not dead. It's just waiting for someone who truly appreciates it and its big, wide splits.