Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't panic ...

... though I wouldn't really blame you, John and Jane Q. Auburn Fan, if you did after reading this post at Blutarsky's. The good Senator contrasts some of Tuberville's "No, seriously, we're going to run out of the spread, even though the coordinator I've hired to set our spread up has never operated it like that in his career!" quotes with this tidbit from Chizik, courtesy of the Albany (Ga.) Herald:
As far as new coaches, the hiring of Tulsa co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn might on the surface imply the Tigers are leaning toward an all-out spread passing attack, though Chizik is not so sure.

“Well, there are so many different versions of the spread and what that means,” said Chizik, who won the Frank Broyles Award as the country’s top assistant (defensive coordinator) when Auburn finished the 2004 season undefeated. “I really see us more of a run-the-football type of team, so I’m not sure what the appropriate name of the offense is. Obviously, we’ll do some one-back, two-back things of that nature. It’s still going to be a downhill, physical running game.”
OK, breathe. Breathe. This is one quote delivered in February to a random Albany beat guy while Chizik happened to be in town for the E. Cleve Wester Scholarship Quail Hunt. It's not really all that different from the same kinds of chicken-soup quotes Chizik (and even Malzahn) have been offering to soothe the spread-hating Auburn soul ever since he was hired. But man ... no point in pretending it doesn't sound exactly like what Tubby was saying in defense of Franklin. Tubby's quotes ended up being not so much the typical media fluff as an indication of some deeply held, serious differences in offensive philosophy that eventually wrecked the entire team. Hearing something so similar come out of the Chiznick's mouth makes me awful nervous. But I think we'll be OK. Here's why:

1. As I've detailed before, this conception of Malzahn's spread as being an analog for the Mumme-Franklin Airraid (one perpetuatedis just flat wrong. Tulsa ran more often this past year than Auburn ran under Borges in 2007. It's decisively, unabashedly, a run-to-set-up-the-pass offense. What Malzahn's offense isn't is a "downhill, physical," "two-back" offense, but if what Auburn runs is similar to what Tulsa ran, Auburn will still be a "run-the-football type of team."

2. Given the Tubby vs. Franklin history, the relationship between Chizik and his new OC and how much input Chizik is going to have in the operation of Auburn's offense is going to be a h-o-double-t HOTT topic from now until kickoff this fall. To this point, we've gotten mixed signals--Chizik has made some noises like these about smash-mouth running that Malzahn's offense isn't really built to do, but both he and Malzahn have also stated repeatedly that Malzahn's going to be in total control of the offense. I think the best guess is that we'll wind up somewhere in the middle of those two poles: there's going to be a leeeeetle bit of compromise on Malzahn's end to Chizik's HULK SMASH wishes, but that the end product will still bear a much closer resemblance to what Malzahn ran at Tulsa than Franklin's Spread Eagle did to what he ran at Troy. Until we see it on the field, though, we can expect a whole lot of comments from both sides of both Chizik's and Malzahn's mouths as they to reassure fans that Spread Eagle 2.0 will be both entirely Malzahn's creation and as smash-mouth as Chizik wants it.

3. Whatever happens, Malzahn isn't going to hate the position coaches working under him and have the position coaches working under him hate him. That was pretty much a one-time thing.

So, do I wish Chizik would come out and say things like "We're going to run the ball, but we're going to do it from the spread, getting our talented guys into space and using the entire field to create mismatches, the same way Gus did at Tulsa. He's one of the best in the business, and I trust that he'll find a way to move the ball on the ground, whether that's out of the spread, the Wildcat, a two-back set, whatever. He'll make it work," rather than trying to sell us a bill-of-PHYSICAL! PHYSICAL! PHYSICAL!-goods? Yep.

But I also don't think we ought to throw our hands up and expect a second philosophical tug-of-war between Auburn's head coach and his spread-happy OC, either. (Not that anybody is, mind you--just for argument's sake.) Malzahn came on board for a reason and Chizik hired him for a reason. They both knew what they were getting from the other. They're going to be on the same page, or at the very least we'll have Malzahn on the front of the page and Chizik on the back. Or something. The point is that these are two very, very smart coaches--Chizik wouldn't have put together the staff he's built if he wasn't--and they'll figure out an offense where both of them will be happy, no matter what they're telling the Albany Herald.


Grotus' Acorn said...

I agree with you when you say that this version of the spread is a much better fit for Auburn, and that it's perfectly possible to be spread and still knock 'em around on the ground.

In fact, I'm hoping we emulate (or at least learn lessons from) Oklahoma's transition to the spread. There are some pretty basic similarities. Malzahn and Walker both like the run-heavy no-huddle, and OU has a strong history of smashmouth power football. Under Walker, not only has OU taken to the offensive system, they've thrived. In 2008, TB's Murray and Brown ripped up the turf for 1,002 and 1,220 yards respectively. For comparison: in '04 Cadillac and Ronnie racked up 1,165 and 916 on the ground.

That's not to say the Chiznik is another Bob Stoops, or that we match OU athlete-for-athlete. But I think that we have as good of an offensive coordinator in Malzahn, we have raw talent along the line and in our backfield, and the turmoil may allow us to completely embrace the revolution.

Here's hoping we give Gus his head and find out what this thing is capable of!

(Yeah, yeah: mmmm... Kool-aid...)

Acid Reign said...

.....The biggest thing with any spread, is that the quarterback HAS to be able to deliver the ball authoritatively, and accurately. Last year, Auburn couldn't utilize the outside consistently, so defenses would load up on inside receivers. This year, we'll be just as bad, if we can't find SOMEBODY who can throw a 10 yard out without blooping the ball 30 feet in the air.

.....It's easier to run the ball, in a version of the spread that uses vertical routes. If you run mostly stretch-smash routes, those DBs will stay up close to the line of scrimmage. And it's really easy to overload the tackle box with a spread offense, so those screens and outside shotgun handoffs get attacked quickly.

.....With vertical routes, hit a few of 'em, and those DBs have to play back. That creates more room in the flats. With the smash concepts, SO much hinges on the ability of the quarterback to get the ball out quickly, and the receiver to create after the catch. When we had Billings and Smith as our main guys out there, we were doomed trying to run wide receiver hitches and screens, even if the ball got there.

jrsuicide said...

the only thing i will say about Oklahoma having 2 1,000 yard rushers would be: who couldn't get a thousand yards in the Big 12 against those defenses?

but yeah, i am drinking the Kool Aid too. i mean i am broke, it's all i can afford.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jerry, Grotus, Acid Reign... nice to see you guys again. Interesting stuff from Jay Tate and Andy Bitter today talking to Malzahan. Here's a couple of things from Tate/Malzahn:

On how his offensive line will handle 80 plays per game: "We try to get our guys into basketball shape. I don't mean that as a soft word. Our guys are going to recover quickly. They're going to mentally and physically recover. Our offensive line will run more than any offensive line in the country. He said (as a general rule) offensive tackles will be in two-point stances. Guards will be in three-point stances.

OH NOZE!!! I thought we learned last year when the kids went whining to Mama Nall that OL can't block for the run from the two-point stance in the SEC!!! And that it was ALL FRANKLIN'S FAULT because he made the OL get smaller so they could run more plays faster and quicker! OH NOZE!!!

And then this from Andy Bitter/Malzahn:

Now, I came on this beat in September, so I did not get to go through the installation of the Tony Franklin system last offseason, but from what I've heard, a lot of this sounds the same. Although I will say it seems like this was done far less haphazardly, in that Auburn went to great lengths to put together a coaching staff that is all on the same page. You can't say the same for Franklin and Tommy Tuberville's long-time assistants last year.

"Really, it doesn't take very long at all for players," Malzahn said of his desired pacing. "Once they get the communication down and they get going, it's a short period of time.

"Really the coaching is the difference. Coaches are so creatures of habit and are used to doing certain things a certain way. Once the coaches get to thinking quick and all the things that go into making decisions quicker and the communication, but for players, no, it happens extremely quick."

Things that make you go HMMMMM.

tiger7_88 said...

Hit the ENTER key too quick, Jerry... the above Anonymous is from me.

Grotus' Acorn said...

Oh also,

On rereading the Smart Football rundown of the Malzahn spread, it seems I inadvertantly stole the what-if-we-emulate-Oklahoma idea from him. Credit where credit's due.