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Top Spring Ball Questions: Another New Offense

Once again, the Colorado Buffaloes will go into spring ball tweaking their offense. That sentence should cause a slight "hell yeah" comment to be whispered under your breath. It is no secret, the offense struggled mightily under the new spread style. I wish the weak offensive production was limited to just last year but has been a problem for the last few years for a variety of reasons. As the Big 12 continues to be a powerful juggernaut in putting up points and yards, the Buffs continue to rank in the bottom half of every single offensive category:

2005 - 2008 Colorado Offensive Production
Stat 2008 2007 2006 2005
Total Offense 318 ypg 378 ypg 291 ypg 333 ypg
National Rank 95th 72nd 102nd 88th
Big 12 Rank 12th 10th 12th 8th

Rushing Offense 125 ypg 144 ypg 173 ypg 110 ypg
National Rank 87th 69th 22nd 99th
Big 12 Rank 10th 8th 5th 9th

Passing Offense 194 ypg 234 ypg 118 ypg 223 ypg
National Rank 80th 53rd 116th 59th
Big 12 Rank 11th 10th 12th 6th

Scoring Offense 20 ppg 27 ppg 16 ppg 24 ppg
National Rank 100th 62nd 107th 78th
Big 12 Rank 12th 10th 12th 9th


That chart is an eye sore. If you want to tell somebody without much words as the reason why the Buffs have struggled the last few years, just flash this and every thing else is self explanatory.

In 2008, Colorado got everyone relatively excited about the new phenomenon called the spread offense. We looked at Graham Harrell run it at Texas Tech and throw for unseen amounts of yards. We saw Sam Bradford run an offense that was like watching a fast break in basketball. Then Texas with Colt McCoy and Vince Young deploying a run/pass option to perfection. And then of course, we got a first hand showing of Chase Daniel and the Missouri Tigers put up over 100 points in the last two years against our Buffs and we said, "let's try that offense."

Well, we should have tempered the excitement. What were we thinking? The main flaw in the "let's try that offense statement" is the lack of said quarterbacks: Graham Harrell, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Vince Young and Chase Daniel. Of course, the CU offense did not have playmakers like Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree or the offensive line of Oklahoma and Texas Tech. But Colorado didn't have the quarterback that could keep a defense entirely honest with both his legs and his arm or his ability to sling it all over the field. Let's face it, we didn't have any of the tools needed to run a spread offense and then you throw inexperience and injuries on top of the lack of "spread worthy" talent, you get the 95th ranked offense in the nation.

A credit to the coaching staff to make the quick change, though. Hopefully, it is the last major move for the next couple of years. Part of this whole continuity movement that Hawkins has been preaching the last couple of years only really works when you are coaching similar schemes with yearly modifications, not overhauls. Next year, according to many sources, Colorado will be running more pro-style sets but have reassured the spread is not dead. I still think the spread is where Colorado will end up one day but Helfrich, Hawkins and others realized that a spread is an animal that requires a lot of parts, many of which the Buffs lacked.

Most of us were calling for the "I" formation, two tight end set last year. We saw the Buffs run it against Iowa State after halftime and Darrell Scott had his most productive quarter of his collegiate career. Most of the time, Scott would get the ball seven yards deep out of the shotgun with no forward momentum and get tackled in the backfield. The reason: when Cody Hawkins was in there, no one needed to respect the his run option. The defense had two keys: a long developing run play to the running back and a long developing pass play that was going to be no longer than 15 yards down field. When Tyler Hansen was at the helm, Colorado, for the right reasons, didn't feed the freshman all the playbook and CU's passing offense struggled. When Hansen was in the game, it was either quarterback draw or running back draw. The result was a defense stacked in the box. As you can tell, the Colorado offense became predictable and were working with limited options.

Under the new pro-style offense, I think you are going to see the unit function in a rhythm, something we lacked last year. I am hoping come Colorado State, these are the things this offense will produce:

  • A Quick Pass Game - nothing frustrates a defense more than pitch and catch football. Three step drops, with quick outs, quick slants, quick fades that get the ball out of the quarterbacks hands into the playmakers hands putting 1 - 2 defensive players on an island. Quarterbacks are helped immensely by being in a timing offense. When he gets on the fifth step of his five step drop, he knows that the ball needs to be out of his hands. Last year, the ball was in the hands of the quarterback far too much without timing and not in the hands of playmakers in space with favorable matchups. With the addition of WR Andre Simmons, an eligible WR Markques Simas and hopefully a rededicated WR Josh Smith, the pitch and catch offense could be fun to watch. It is all about rhythm with this one.
  • A Forward Momentum Running Game - pretty self explanatory for any Buff fan watching the game last year. You snap the ball back to me 5 - 7 yards deep, I will hand the ball to my non moving running back, try and get through a defense with a banged up offensive line and a "limited optioned" quarterback. Teams were always keying on the running back who was at a standstill all game long. In the "I" formation, quarterback meets running back, who is in a forward motion, in the hole, you don't need me to explain that. This should allow Scott, Stewart, Lockridge to hit the hole quicker and get to the next level.
  • A More Dynamic Run Offering - give me a pitch, give me a student body left, give me a pulling guard, give me back side lineman peeling off to the next leve for blocks 10 yards down field, give me a power attack with Demetrius Sumler that will get us that one yard on the third and short. Listen, I am all for the spread. I think, with the right quarterback, it instantly covers up shortcomings and makes you a big play offense. Ask Baylor how they liked the spread with Robert Griffin. But for this team right now, we don't have the quarterback. We have a stable of running backs and an offensive line that might grow into one of the best in the Big 12. Let's slow the game down and put our players in the best spot to be successful. I think that is what the coaching staff is doing with the switch to a more rhythm based, assignment-driven offense.
  • An Actual Play Action Passing Attack - self explanatory. Get Speedy Stewart in the flats for progression passing, get the quarterbacks on the edge on a 93 attack with a tight end sideline route and an underneath from the running back. Simply put, a more dynamic offense than last year.

These four bullet points get me excited for next year. We have been reassured that the spread is not fully leaving but I would be surprised if we see a lot of it in 2009. It certainly might be good in that change of pace way, no huddle option but I believe once we see Darrell Scott with a lead blocker and pulling guard take him through the hole to the next level and then he gets to show off his tools, we aren't going to be needing that spread offense much.