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The "Tech Ceiling"

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Forget everything you know about assignment football.

Most spread offenses pressure you with formations then attack where you're weakest. The success of most any spread relies on the QB (or OC, if it's one of those line-up-then-call-the-play offenses) to recognize and adjust on the fly.

This is the fundamental difference between the Leach offense and other offenses; he doesn't do what you let him, he does what he wants. His definition of balance isn't to be able to attack whatever you give him.

Leach and his offense are approaching the natural end of a path football strategy has been taking for 50 years. They are testing a limit. Synergy, in Leach's view, doesn't come from mixing runs with passes but from throwing the ball everywhere on the field, to every possible person allowed to catch a ball. "Our notion of balance," Leach says, "is that the five guys who catch the ball all gain 1,000 yards in the season."

Michael Lewis, who wrote the fantastic "Moneyball," presents this novel idea as a secret that only Mike Leach knows. Problem is, the ethos is flawed.

In football terms, a pass is a pass. It doesn't matter if you threaten 5 areas of the field at once, the defense can still make you do what it wants.

H is also supposed to adjust his plans according to how the defense lines up: if it looks as if the defenders will blitz - that is, rush in to get the quarterback - H runs a quick slant across the middle of the field so that the quarterback can throw to him immediately. If the defenders do not blitz, H runs a more leisurely 10 yards downfield and cuts across the middle

Sounds good. The old "throw it where they ain't" offense. It works on paper, but high level defensive coordinators are not the type to give up cushy 6 figure jobs, so they adapt and innovate, too.

The Y Shallow, described above, is one of the most popular, basic football plays you will ever see. The goal is to run off the safeties and widen the underneath coverage and let the two crossers find open space. It hits pretty much every spot on the field, just like Leach wants.

The key here is that defenses can completely abandon any run responsibilities. If Leach won't run when he's given the chance, then the offense is no longer dictating the game. For instance:

shallow-y.gif

The defense doesn't know the where the ball is going, but it does know that it won't need to pay attention to the run. Now we play defense on our terms. The shallow cross is 70% of Tech's running game. It's supposed to be automatic, since it's so tough to cover and such an easy throw. The great thing about expecting a pass is that you can be goofy with your front, and drop linemen. You can almost force the throw by triggering the automatic reaction and putting a linemen right in the middle of the action.

Any pass deflections or interceptions are just gravy. The real point is to slow down the QB's release and make him go outside his training. He's thrown that check down 1,000 times in his career, and if you let him fall into muscle memory he's going to torch you, just like any trained monkey could with that much practice.

If linemen are lurking around, then the QB has to think instead of react, which is an enormously important difference.

You can read this sentence quickly. All the words are familiar, your eyes can just glide over them.

Now flascilliame the discombulentience in the blaschonomilfy.

You can read that just as well, but you might have to enunciate it out loud, slowly, to yourself. That's the difference. By the time you are at the end of that nonsense you've been sacked, or are at least under pressure.  Odds are you cannot stop a short timed route in 5 places at the same time, but you can stop one guy, or at least slow him down.

OU QB's are notoriously bad when you take them out of their comfort zone. Nate Hybl torched Alabama in the first half in '02. OU had 23 at halftime because Carl Torbush kept calling man press coverages, making the pre snap reads easy for Hybl. In the second half, Alabama went zone, and Hybl fell apart as he always did against zone. He stopped reacting and started thinking. It's why players are called "unconscious" when they are playing well. You must make Tech's QB conscious.

The obvious solution to this problem from Tech's perspective is to simply run the ball. But they don't. Leach is set in his patterns. In fact

The trouble with running plays, as Leach sees it, is that they clump players together on the field - by putting two of them, during a handoff, in the same spot with the ball. "I've thought about going a whole season without calling a single running play," Leach says, only half-joking.

What he ignores is the effect of the run on the defense. The running game is what keeps the defense honest and in their lanes. Ends can't run off wherever they please if they have to also stay at home and look out for the run. They can't pin their ears back if they have to watch for the draw.

The Tech running game, from what I gather, is 99% audibles. Knowing this, the defense can line up in an unfavorable front for the run, then when the play if confirmed, shift into something else and run some goofy disguised coverage. In 2005, OSU (finished 4-7) did this and beat No. 13 Tech 24-17, shutting them out through 2.5 quarters and holding Tech to 10 offensive points. Cody Hodges, post game:

They disguised a lot of their stuff, played a lot of cover-2, which is something we have not seen a lot of this year. That is just another coverage we have to adjust to and we did not do a very good job of that all day.

Asked after the game what he'd have done when faced with that defensive strategy, Mike Gundy replied "I guess I'd just run the ball."

That was 3 years ago so the quote may not be award winningly accurate, and the Stillwater media hasn't quite figured out how to archive it's sports news, apparently. Still the point remains.

Offenses work like a scale. The more areas you attack at once, and the more options you give your QB, the higher the difficult gets for him. Tech has tipped the scale so far that you don't have to focus on anything else but the QB. Don't worry about covering 5 guys at once, worry about biting off the head of the snake.

In 2000, after Leach bolted OU for Tech, Mark Mangino took over the OU offense and immediately upgraded it to MNC level. All he did was up the usage of the draw and shovel pass type plays and forced the front 7 to respect the RB, and Josh Heupel exploded for what should have been a Heisman Trophy winning season. He was good already, but under Mangino, other players were available to help him, and both Heupel and the OL played at a very high level.

Until Leach recognizes that his system has a fatal flaw, Tech has hit its ceiling.