Hot Reads: What Comes Next for Offense in Football?
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: What Comes Next for Offense in Football?

May 05, 2020

Spread football isn't all the rage in the game these days, it basically is the game these days.

That is sort of the thesis statement of the latest piece from Bill Connelly for ESPN. After 20 or so years of revolution–these things never really have a firm start date–the evolution of offense is complete.

Everything else is the alternative now. The spread offense is the default college football offense, and considering which quarterbacks are getting selected the highest in the draft each year (Baker Mayfield in 2018, Kyler Murray in 2019, Burrow in 2020), it is the pro-style offense of the day too.

If you're into the history of Xs-and-Os, there's a lot to digest in this story including a particularly slick look at quarterback efficiency as a way to mark how spread football has changed the game. But there were two parts here that made me specifically think of Nebraska.

The first was how offensive tempo has largely been neutralized. Oregon made going fast a football lifestyle––and that, on its own, wouldn't have been enough if the Ducks weren't also extremely efficient––but coaches in Connelly's story note that defenses have basically adjusted. They're ready, now, not to sub, to make calls quickly. That doesn't mean tempo can't still be a weapon, but it's no longer the entire arsenal.

Nebraska, the past two years, has still gone faster than the average team. The 2018 Huskers ran a play every 23 seconds, 23rd nationally. Last year's team, featuring Frost's run-heaviest offense yet, ran a play every 24 seconds, 31st nationally. As Connelly notes, the average team in 2019 ran a play every 26 seconds, the longest time between plays since 2010.

While tempo may have been the thing most closely associated with Frost when he arrived at Nebraska for the 2018 season, I don't think it was ever really the raison d'être for this offense. The 2017 UCF offense, which averaged nearly 50 points per game, ran a play every 23.7 seconds, slower than Nebraska's 2018 offense and just a tad faster than 2019's.

While tempo, due to some degree to a residual Oregon effect, was perhaps the first thing people thought of when they thought of Frost's offense, what they really should've been focused on is variability. At least that's what Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said in the story.

"That's what made Central Florida so tough when [Scott] Frost was there," said Steele, whose Auburn team lost to UCF in the 2018 Peach Bowl. "It was like a new game every week: 'Have they changed coaching staffs this week?' It was different stuff."

That was my other main takeaway from this story. If spread football has become just "football" at this point, what's next? What's the next evolution?

The multiplicity angle offers an interesting thought experiment. It's not new, nothing in football ever truly is, but if pace and tempo aren't the hurdles for an opposing defense that they once were, and offenses are all starting to look pretty similar, what if the ability to look different selectively is being undervalued? “Multiple” has long been an offensive coordinator buzzword, but maybe it got pushed farther down the list of late.

Just some things to think about as we await football's return.

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