Topic of the Day/Live Chat at 7 p.m. on Wed. and More…

First off, if you haven’t checked out the inaugural edition of “The End Zone,” which wraps up everything from the weekend and more, you can click here to do that. Also, the Players of the Week and Top 10 can also be found in the “Recent News” section on the frontpage.

In addition, you can also enter our “Pick ‘Em Contest” and weigh in on the Top 10 by going to the football homepage here and clicking on the icons for the Pick ‘Em and the Surf Taco Fans Top 10.

I also am working on some alumni stuff and updating all of that, so I will post all of that as soon as I can get it finished.

As for today, the topic of the day is, “Why don’t more teams run the spread?” I’m talking mainly about the spread that is run at Howell, not the zone read option out of the shotgun that more teams are starting to employ. I’m talking about the no-huddle, four- and five-wide, pass-heavy spread like they run at Howell.

The reason I’m wondering is because that offense seemingly has transformed Howell’s entire program from one that mainly struggled to get to .500 and occasionally had a good year to one that is capable of winning division and state titles regularly. Since Howell’s rise, no other team has really tried to copy that type of offense and stuck with it. You would think someone would take a look at that and say, “Well, if it worked for them…”

I would figure that some program out there that has been struggling would give it a shot because opponents seem to have a hard time defending it around here because nobody runs it so they don’t see it regularly, even elite programs.

For instance, I would love to see Howell take on an attacking defense like Middletown South, which has one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the state in Al Bigos. It would be a race to see if South’s blitzers could get to Jimmy Ryan before he could get the ball to a receiver who had one-on-one coverage with a corner out on an island. Most teams don’t have that many defensive backs and linebackers who can cover good athletes one-on-one for an entire game.

One team that seems to be dialed in on it defensively is Jackson Memorial under defensive coordinator Walt Krystopik, as the Jaguars have beaten Howell in four of their last five meetings, holding the Rebels to an average of 10 points per game.

Before we go completely crazy after one game don’t forget that Ryan had a big game against Brick last year in the season opener, but once the film began to circulate and opposing coordinators had something to work with, Howell ended up averaging 17 points per game for the season. You certainly can’t pin that completely on the offense or on one player, but it shows that it gets harder to execute the more teams have seen it. The bad news is that by all accounts, Ryan has definitely improved with a year of experience and hard work in the offseason and so have the rest of the skill players, so it’s a better team than last year.

Talking the other nigh at the TR East game to Mike McGarry of The Press of Atlantic City, who has been covering South Jersey football for a long time, the spread is the most popular offense down there. Almost everyone other than maybe the smaller schools runs some type of variation on it, so it’s definitely an offense that has taken hold in other parts of the state.

I asked a few opposing coaches why more teams in the Shore Conference aren’t doing it, as many are employing offenses like the run-based flexbone, which has been run for eons but has proved successful to many teams in this area, like Middletown South and Freehold.

One reason is that Howell is a Group IV school whose participation numbers are booming. It’s a little easier to find a quarterback and four or five capable wideouts among 100 players than among 40 or even 25-30 at some of the really small Group I programs. The offense revolves around the quarterback, and Howell has had three good ones in a row in Sean O’Reilly, Tim Lamirande and now Ryan. Some of the smaller schools might simply not have a quarterback of that caliber to really make the offense work. If the QB is mediocre, the offense is mediocre.

I think another reason Howell has been successful is because head coach Cory Davies has really remained committed to the offense and committed to refining it. He has borrowed from what Mike Leach has done down at Texas Tech and their explosive offense as well as other top college programs and continues to study it. He didn’t just install it for that one stretch, win a state title and then scrap it when he had all new personnel last year. It wasn’t just a gimmick to him. He stayed with it, the new players continued to absorb the system, and now the Rebels are a threat once again after winning the Central Jersey Group IV title in 2007.

Davies knows it inside and out, which is another reason why it works. I think a reason teams may not be adopting it is because coaches may not want to take the time to really learn the offense inside and out if they are going to change what they are doing. You can’t just go to one clinic or buy an Urban Meyer video and think that it’s going to work to perfection. I wouldn’t call it laziness, but I think there’s some fear and hesitation from coaches about installing it because of the time commitment it takes to really learn it completely.

Another reason, of course, is weather. If you look at all these high-octane offenses among the nationally-ranked powers in Texas, California, Florida and elsewhere, they all run the spread. The weather can get a little more iffy up here, so some coaches might be hesitant to have an offense based around the passing game if there’s a downpour or snowstorm. However, I’ve seen Howell run it in difficult conditions and still move the chains because a lot of the throws are short or intermediate routes.

Still, I am surprised that more teams that are struggling have not tried this offense. If you’re going 3-7 anyway, you might as well try it. After all, that offense is fun, and could lead to more kids coming out for the team. You can’t tell me that younger kids don’t see Jimmy Ryan slinging it to all those Howell receivers running all over the field and running back Will Hayes causing trouble all over the place and not think they it looks awfully fun, like backyard football in a real game. Plus, it’s been proven that it can be successful. Just ask the West Windsor South team that the Rebels beat 46-13 in the CJ IV final in ’07.

Just a thought on my part. If anyone else has an opinion on it, feel free to comment on the blog, and maybe we’ll discuss it in the next live chat, which will be Wednesday (tomorrow) at 7 p.m.

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2 Responses to Topic of the Day/Live Chat at 7 p.m. on Wed. and More…

  1. The ex-coach says:

    Interesting points Stump.
    The spread offense certainly puts lots of pressure on defenses to defend the whole field. The QB in the Gun with a RB is now a 2 back set. If the defense plays 6 in the box……it only leaves 5 defenders to cover 4 receivers……which means only 1 Free Safety…….opening up the pass game. If the defense plays 5 in the box……it gives them a 2 safety look…..however only 5 in the box vs. 6 potential blockers…….which opens up the run game. True dilemmas for defensive coaches to ponder.

    Having said all of that….you still need a QB to create these dilemmas. A one dimensional QB in the spread alleviates many problems for the defense. The defense can line up and play to the QB’s strength.

    I have seen Howell up close and personal on a few occasions. They have been fortunate to have talented QB’s. Coach Davies also has done a great job (as you said). You are on point on all of your observations about their success.

    It is not easy to consistenly find dynamic players at the QB position. I believe this is why the programs who struggle may avoid this offense. As you pointed out, it is a lot of work to learn all the nuances and philosophies. Not to mention pass protection proficiency.

    The spread is here to stay. It has “trickled up” to the NFL. The pro game would change if they were ever able to pay a QB like Tim Tebow a RB’s salary. Then each team could carry two “wildcat” type athletes and the fun would really begin.

  2. HFAA says:

    I believe that your assessment regarding the QB position and the smaller schools makes the most sense.

    For the most part absent the so called territorial lottery of being graced with a strong armed QB from a smaller population, Group I or II schools need to be successful “System Schools” (ie. Squan).

    The Spread is so heavily QB weighted that High School with under 1000 students has a lower chance of lucking out statistically and having someone who can adequately run it.

    Besides… this is North Eastern America. This is Power football county.

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