Yesterday I went in depth with the Brian Kelly offense and what made it tick. The main reason I did this is that I have grown weary of the lazy characterization of Butch Jones of Jones being the same as Kelly, but at a very, very low rent. I think it is clear that Jones is not in the same stratosphere as Kelly was in his ability to maximize the effectiveness of the talent on hand. But I don't believe that Jones is as bad a coach as his first season would leave you to believe. There are differences between Kelly and Jones that have been brushed over, overlooked, misunderstood (pick your own adjective). Of course the other reason I am doing this is that I am a huge Football nerd/zealot.
I love the minutiae of the game, and nothing gets nearer to that then surveying youtube clips for hours on end and diagramming plays, very poorly, using Microsoft paint. Ah, the good life.
The Butch Jones Ideology
Butch Jones is a spread guy. Given his background and who he has worked for in the past, he really didn't have a say in the matter. In his last two jobs before coming to UC he was the OC at Central Michigan during Brian Kelly's first year firing up the Chips then he moved on to be the WR coach at West Virginia during the heart of the Pat White/Steve Slaton era. So in the three years prior to him taking the head coaching position at Central he worked under two of the foremost authorities, or at the very least two of the earliest adapters of spread offensive Football. But there is still more to his coaching background then his work with BK and Rich Rod.
The most time that Jones spent working for a head coach was the four years he spent under Mike DeBoard. Deboard's teams in Mount Pleasant were not very successful, he never posted more than four wins in a season and he won a total of 12 games in 4 years. But the importance of DeBoard in the formation of Jones's offense has more to do with DeBoards background. DeBoard worked on the offensive side of the ball for the Wolverines for 7 years. When DeBoard took the Central job he brought that Michigan offense along with him. The reason that this is important when it comes to Jones is simple. This was the longest period of time he spent with a scheme as an assistant/coordinator. So while Jones did his work with Kelly and Rich Rod he adopted many things from those coaches, the formations, the personnel groupings, run schemes ect he still had those Michigan roots, particularly in the development of his passing game.
The end product then is sort of an amalgamation of two ideologies. The basic conception of the offense is that it is the old spread and shred from the Rich Rod heyday on the ground married to the more staid and conservative west coast passing attack that comes from the Michigan influence that has pervaded Jones time as an assistant. On the surface that is OK, but there is an inherent problem that comes with these sort of amalgamated offenses, but I won't touch on that until I hit part three tomorrow. For now lets get down with some specifics of what this all means.
The biggest difference wasn't immediately discernible when Jones embarked on his first campaign with the Bearcats. You have to watch the game very closely to notice that the vertical passing game was no longer as staple of the offense. The new basis of the offense was the short rythum based passing attack. That is not to say that the vertical threat disappeared altogether, it didn't, but after three years of being the Sun of the offense the vertical game went back to being merely a planet.
The base play for Butch Jones passing game is hard to pin down. Primarily because I did a terrible job with my note taking during games, I was far to busy swearing loudly at anything that moved during games last year. From what I can remember on of the most frequently used route combination's was the simple all curls, demonstrated here. The Bearcats version looked something like this.
There were a ton of formations used this year, but a variation of this play was run from all of them. The basic goal of this play is to stretch the defense horizontally. This is a great early down passing play for a couple of reasons. First it is a great play to run against a defense using a single high safety, which is the predominate first down look in most of college football, because it removes that player from the play. The other reason is that this route combination will work against any defense, be it man or zone. The final reason might be the most important. using this concept with frequency forces a defense to respect the intermediate passing game which opens up deep routes at latter points in the game. The all curls concept is the heart of the West Coast Offense. It's quick, precise, good against multiple coverages and it stretches the field horizontally. For more on the all curl concept click here.
The fact that the all curls concept was featured so prominently is, in retrospect, the clearest break from the Brian Kelly offense imaginable. Kelly defied convention with his deep first, deep always theory of the passing game. Butch Jones is much more conventional in this respect. He sets out to make defenses respect the intermediate passing game before attempting to hit it over the top of the defense. Neither one of these approaches is wrong, there have always been multiple ways to skin this particular cat.
Rigidity Vs. Flexibility
To my mind the biggest difference between Kelly and Jones passing offenses is the basic dichotomy of rigidity and flexibility. Kelly's offense is much more free form. That was the greatest strength, and arguably the greatest weakness of the offense. Having an offense like that ensures that there will always be a ton of big plays, one way or the other.
Jones on the other hand uses an offense that is much more structured, and it has to be like that. For a west coast offense, which is the basic theory of offense that Jones puts to forth, everything in terms of execution comes down to timing. The drop of the QB and the movements of the receivers are synchronized so that the ball and the man arrive at the same spot on the field at the same time. That level of precision lends itself to a highly structured routes and route combination's. Let's check out some examples.
Here is the basic diagram of this play.
This is a really simple play. It is just a quick three step drop from Zach. He determines his primary and secondary reads pre snap. In this case Louisville is in a cover two with what looks like man underneath so the primary read for Collaros is the post route down the middle of the defense, which is the weakness of the defense. UC has D.J. matched up with Darius Ashley in man to man coverage, advantage Woods. Lets try another one
And your diagram, though it is incomplete, I have no idea what Marcus Barnett is doing at the bottom of the screen. My guess? He ran and found the nearest mirror so that he could check out his impressively tattooed visage mid play. But that's just my theory.
This play serves to illustrate another difference between the BK offense and Butch Jones's offense. Zach Collaros has a very strict progression that he works through on this play. On this play the ball should come out as soon as Collaros executes his three step drop. His primary read is Anthony McClung in the slot, if open the ball should come out on the third step to McClung, he then glanced at Ben Guidugli to the right, who was also covered. Only after making his initial two reads does Collaros come back to Armon Binns running a straight go route down the left hand sideline. All of this is very staid, very rigid. Compare that play to this play from the BK playbook. Watch Tony Pike very carefully.
You see the difference? Tony Pike gets the snap, takes a couple steps back sees that no one is open, takes a leisurely roll to the right and then he finally spots Mardy Gilyard stretching vertically and lets fly. It's a completely different dynamic for the quarterback transitioning from the BK offense to the Jones offense, and it requires a different mentality and a slightly different set of physical tools for everyone involved.
Jones plays are really basic, but they require two things, precise route running from the receivers and quarterbacks who can stand tall in the pocket and make plays. Last year UC was lacking on both counts in my estimation. I am going to go more in depth with the types of receivers that thrive in both offenses on the third and final post on the subject. For now lets limit the discussion to the quarterback issue.
Zach Collaros is not a great pocket based QB. The difference in his comfort level between sitting in the pocket and reading the defense versus using some play action and half rolls to buy him some time was tangible. The fact of the matter is that Zach Collaros is a great QB off play action and pretty average one just sitting in the pocket reading coverages. This is a point that I have been trying to make for a while. Look at the difference in his numbers in games where Isaiah Pead went over 100 yards rushing, which indicates a commitment to running from Mike Bajakian and Jones, compared to those where Pead was kept under 100 yards.
The difference between Collaros with a running game and and without is startling. He threw for more yards in the games without an effective running game. But in every other respect when Collaros has support he blows it out of the water. This isn't revolutionary stuff here. The high water mark for Zach Collaros was the UConn game in 2009. At this point it shouldn't come as a surprise to be told that the UConn game was also the best performance UC had running the ball in the Brian Kelly era. In that game Collaros was straight bombing on everyone.
Zach Collaros Play Action (via mopper309)
In theory the marriage between Zach Collaros should be perfect. it should be a glove in hand situation, but it hasn't quite turned out that way. The perfect fit in terms of a QB for the Jones offense already operated in it for three years, and his name is Dan Lefevour. Collaros isn't a rust belt Tebow clone, so expecting him to do what Lefevour did so well turned out to be slightly misjudged. But Jones and bajakian threw Collaros into that offense and it didn't quite work. Zach had great numbers in the first few games last year, but something felt off offensively. It wasn't until the Oklahoma game that the staff finally figured out how to maximize the effectiveness of Collaros by getting him on the edge. In that game he looked like himself again.
For a stretch there after he looked like the old Zach Collaros. But towards the end of the season the offense looked like it had at the beginning and his production took a dive, Rutgers aside.
I don't think that there is anything wrong per say with Jones offense. I think it is highly effective, and it has been shown to be just that with his run at Central Michigan with Rust Belt Tebow. I don't think it is any worse then the offense Kelly runs. In terms of per schematic effect the two offenses are very similar, even though they go about the business of moving the Football down the field in slightly different ways. The main difference is that Kelly's offense is simpler to teach, install and execute than Jones which requires patience, experience and most important of all repititions. An ancillary difference deals with the difference in the kinds of players required to make either of these offenses work to peak efficiency. That is the subject of the third part of this series which will drop tomorrow.