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Switching to spread offense made sense for Mocs, Part 1
Long before the departure of former quarterback B.J. Coleman, Chattanooga football coaches knew a change in their offensive system was inevitable.
Given that quarterbacks with prototypical NFL size and the talent to run a pro set — Coleman was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of April’s NFL draft — come along at the Football Championship Subdivision level about as often as a Haley’s Comet sighting, UTC head coach Russ Huesman and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield wanted to switch from the West Coast offense to a system that could be run by the personnel that are more readily available to them.
Faster, undersized players are fairly plentiful, and UTC has its share. Huesman wanted to take advantage.
“My big thing in talking to Sat was — and I don’t know enough about the offensive side of the football — I want the ball in our playmakers’ hands,” Huesman said. “However we’ve got to do it. However we’ve got to get it to them. I wanted it sideline to sideline, where our opponents have to defend the whole field. And I wanted it to be multiple.”
Satterfield didn’t have to think long and hard to satisfy Huesman’s demands, thus the switch to a spread offense, but not a spread in the traditional sense.
“The historical spread was more like what [former Kentucky coach] Hal Mumme ran,” Satterfield said. “He had a guy who wasn’t a running quarterback and four-receiver sets. I don’t know when the spread transitioned, but today’s spread — the kind that’s run at Oregon or West Virginia — still makes you cover from sideline to sideline, but the added dimension is the running quarterback. You still have to defend the whole field, but now you’re having to defend that quarterback.”
Perfect QBs for the new system
The Mocs just happen to have two quarterbacks who should be ideal candidates to run what Satterfield likes to call the “pro spread” — Terrell Robinson, a 6-3, 195-pound sophomore who played well enough while filling in for an injured Coleman last season that he was voted Southern Conference freshman of the year — and 6-1, 190-pound redshirt freshman Jacob Huesman, the coach’s son who ran for 1,750 yards as a senior at Chattanooga Baylor in 2010 and was voted Tennessee’s Division II-AA Mr. Football.
It’s the added dimension of running that make Robinson — the only Moc to rush for more than 100 yards in a game last year (115 vs. Elon, 114 vs. Georgia Southern) — and Huesman ideal latter-day spread quarterbacks. Both can also throw, as Robinson proved by tossing six touchdown passes, third all-time among UTC freshmen. But the threat to break a long run, ala former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards, who led the Mountaineers to two straight FCS championships (2006-07), is what should make the new offense dangerous.
“You’ve still got to defend the short passes,” Satterfield said. “Yet to defend the short passes, in coach talk, you have to remove people from what we call the box, between the tackles. If we can get you to remove enough people from the box, now you have a back and a quarterback in there. At one point in time, in the early ’90s, (former Kentucky Q Tim Couch wasn’t running it, he was handing it off. You could defend the box with five guys and six guys.
“Now if you leave six guys, or heaven forbid you put five guys in there, you’re in trouble as a defense because now, that quarterback’s going to run, and you have an extra blocker with the back. You have a two-back offense in a one-back spread set. That gives the defense issues. How are they going to defend the box and the run and stop the short passing game that goes with it?”
Getting help from an unexpected source
To learn more about the spread, the UTC coaches decided a visit to Football Bowl Subdivision program that ran the offense was in order.
UTC could have gone to Oregon to consult with Chip Kelly, whom Huesman knows from back in the day when Kelly was the offensive coordinator at FCS New Hampshire and Huesman was the defensive coordinator at FCS Richmond.
“Obviously Oregon is very successful,” Huesman said. “But we didn’t want to actually run that fast of an offense. They do a lot of it with tempo and speed. How fast they’re getting the ball snapped.”
Baylor was another option. Huesman has friends on the staff that produced 2011 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. “But in talking to them, we realized we probably wouldn’t get a lot that would help us with what we’re trying to do,” Satterfield said. “RG III could run, but they weren’t scheming runs for him.”
Eventually, the answer became clear. In fact, it was televised on ESPN for six consecutive Tuesday nights last fall.
“We were watching those (Mid-American Conference) games on Tuesday nights,” Satterfield said. “And we started paying attention to Northern Illinois. They put up a ton of points.
“As I’m watching them, I’m like, ‘man, this is awesome.’ They were physical, they were downhill; they had a running quarterback who can throw. You’ve got to cover the field against them and they play with good tempo.”
The Northern Illinois offense had been installed by former coach Jerry Kill (now at Minnesota), who, not surprisingly, developed his system at Southern Illinois, which under his leadership became one of the more prolific offenses in the FCS. After Kill left NIU in December 2010, his replacement, former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, was smart enough to retain Kill’s offensive system, even sending his coaching staff to Minnesota to learn from the master.
Last season, Doeren led Northern Illinois to 11 victories, its first MAC championship in 28 years and a win in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The Huskies were 12th in the nation in rushing offense (234.1 ypg), 11th in total offense (476.0 ypg) and 12th in scoring offense (38.3 ppg).
How the system works
“The offense at NIU is a high-scoring, high-octane spread offense,” offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar said. “We can change our speed at any moment, and this ability to change pace can throw off the defense and give us the upper hand.”
Though Dunbar had run the spread at Northwestern and Toledo, he had to learn the nuances of the system favored by Kill, who explained his offense after he was hired at Minnesota.
“We want to be a multiple offense,” Kill told the media at his debut press conference. “We want to be able to line up in two backs and come downhill. But, at the same time, we want to run some spread option and read option. We’ve been pretty multiple, and it keeps people off balance.
“A lot has to do with the personnel. I like an athletic quarterback, one that makes up for my lack of coaching, that can get out of a play every once in a while and make a play. I want a fast team.”
All this sounded great to Satterfield, who didn’t have any friends on the NIU staff. He decided to make a cold call, just hoping to ask a few questions. The response he got surprised him.
“They were unbelievable,” Satterfield said. “We went up to visit, and they opened everything up. They showed us their playbook, let us watch practice, sit in on meetings. This was after (UTC’s) spring practice, and we’d already started teaching their offense based on what we’d seen on film, but we wanted to see how close we were.”
Satterfield singled out NIU quarterback coach Bob Cole for going out of his way to be helpful.
“But it wasn’t just me,” Cole said. “The credit goes to the guys we have on our staff, and our head coach. Dave’s a great guy. The big thing is that we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Everybody copies off everybody else. We went to Minnesota (to learn Kill’s system), and they were super gracious, too.
“If you’ve got somebody that wants to come in and ask legitimate questions, you’re more than willing to help. It’s the people that want to learn your whole system in two days — which isn’t going to happen — that maybe you’re a little wary of. But if you’re looking to get a couple of things, and you’re organized and prepared, that’s a good deal.
“And a lot of times, you can get stuff from the people you’re helping. That was the case with the guys from Chattanooga. We got a couple things from them I think we’re going to use. I think they’re going to do a good job with this offense down there.”
By Chris Dortch, Chattanooga Free Press