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Is Steve Spurrier's Offense Dated?

One common idea that gets thrown around in reference to Steve Spurrier's continued inability to reproduce his former success at USC is that his offense is dated and ineffective against modern defenses. Is there much truth to this charge? Let's take a closer look.

On the one hand, there are some ways in which the charge is true. This is mainly in terms of the difference between the defenses of the mid-1990s and those of today. The main issue here is that (1) LBs are much faster now than they used to be and (2) defensive coordinators are much more inclined to blitz on passing downs than they used to be. Both developments can be seen in light of defensive adjustments to the increasing importance of downfield passing and, later, spread formations since Spurrier's time at Florida. Back in the early 90s, the SEC and most of college football in general still followed the "three yards and a cloud of dust" philosophy; that is, teams relied on a bruising runningback to churn yardage and generally threw the ball either in third-and-long or gimmick situations. Most teams still favored the I or some similar run-friendly formation that used only one or two receivers lined up wide. This meant that teams often favored big middle linebackers that were first and foremost run stoppers. It didn't matter so much if these guys were fast or not, because they typically didn't have to spend a lot of time in coverage, and when they did, it would be against a bulky fullback or a tight end as opposed to a faster player. Because it wasn't conducive to this kind of personnell or the opposing offensive scheme, teams tended not to blitz the quarterback too much.

Spurrier's offense was, predictably when considered in hindsight, able to take full advantage of the weaknesses of this defensive philosophy. With the wealth of talented skills position players he was able to accumulate at Florida, Spurrier was able to create huge matchup problems in the downfield passing game. A defense designed to stop a Pat Dye offense was no match for what Spurrier had to offer. The idea behind his philosophy was that with these matchup advantages, it would be possible to get someone open on just about any passing play. The keys were that he retain enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest, which he always did, and that his line give the quarterback enough time, also never a problem because of the talent he always had at his disposal.

Things have changed since then. A lot. Now, defenses--just look at ours--oftentimes have linebackers--sometimes even defensive ends--that can run a 4.6 and can stay in coverage with most skills position players. These kinds of players are also perfect for blitzing the quarterback; Eric Norwood is a great example, as he's a player that was big enough to fight off blocks and fast enough to close a play behind the line of scrimmage. So the argument goes, Spurrier's offense hasn't kept up with this approach. He has more trouble getting people open, and he's been unable to figure out how to stop the blitz. As said, there is some truth to these charges, particularly the latter one regarding blitzes.

More after the jump.

However, I think the real problem for Spurrier is a combination of execution and playcalling confusion, as opposed to any deeper structural flaw in his approach. First of all, it should be recognized that while Spurrier's offense isn't cutting edge anymore, it's not exactly dated. It's still, essentially, a pro-style offense with a little more inclination to throw the deep ball than usual and a reliance on draw plays in the running game. Plenty of teams around the country run similar offenses, and some run it very successfully. Spurrier himself found success with it in 2006. it's not an offense that's going to disappear anytime soon.

Second of all, Spurrier has changed his approach more than a lot of folks realize, particularly over the past year. We are now running much more option and zone-blocking approaches than we did in Spurrier's first few years, making our approach something of a combination of Spurrier's old approach and the zone read. Based on who we're recruiting, moreover, it appears that this is what we're going to continue doing. It hasn't turned our offense into the unstoppable juggernaut many of us would like to see, but it's not like Spurrier is this old curmudgeon that just won't change. The facts say otherwise.

Now, the facts remain that our offense was only sporadically effective last year and that many question marks remain as far as whether or not it can improve. These, for me, have everything to do with playcalling and player, particularly offensive line, execution. The playcalling issue last year was often inconsistent and inexplicable, particularly in games like Arkansas and Connecticut. This was a problem with in-game decision-making, particularly our inclination to abandon the running game on key drives. Heck, there were times in the Arkansas game where we more or less abandoned everything other than the deep ball to Alshon. Similarly, while we made some strides, our offensive line play still has a lot of improving to do. These are the problems that the team needs to address, and while they fall on the coaches just like any others, they're not problems with the general offensive philosophy.