Last week, big news was made when Coach Rocky Long said they plan to vary up their offense this upcoming season, incorporating more spread formations into their traditional I-formation, run-heavy offense. The article can be found here, and this post aims to expound on what the benefits and downsides of those changes may be.
Random story, back in my sophomore year of college, I wrote a paper for my British Literature class. We had to compare a work that we read to a modern book/show/movie. I chose to compare the play-writes Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare to Cory and Shawn from the show Boy Meets World. The thesis was that Jonson and Cory were similar, very middle of the road, you knew exactly what you would get from them. Overall they played it safe, in their writings and actions respectfully. Likewise, Shakespeare and Shawn were similar, having their moments of extreme highs as well as lows. They reached greatness as few could, but had heart-breaking or head-scratching failures and mistakes.
Why does any of that matter? I’ll be happy to tell you. This is the way my mind works.
For years, I’ve considered San Diego State to be the Jonson/Cory compliment to Boise State’s Shakespeare/Shawn when it comes to their play in Mountain West football. While the Broncos have been to the NY6 Bowls, they’ve also fallen short of expectations and experienced puzzling losses considering their talent level. When they are on, they seem untouchable, and when they are off, it’s like the twilight zone. On the flip side, San Diego State has been as consistent as they come. For years, observers know pretty much exactly what to expect from them. A tremendous running game featuring a talented tail-back with steady play from the offensive line. Paired with a solid defense and the Aztecs can be penciled in for 8-10 wins season after season. Until this past year, that is.
This past season started like any other year for San Diego State, but they inexplicably finished a disappointing 7-6. Which leads to this question, at least for me. If the Aztecs shift from their traditional run-heavy offense to a bit more of a balanced attack, will they be sacrificing what makes them a consistent winner? That remains to be seen. For now, the rest of this piece will focus on the aspects of the change that may end up helping them, as well as what they could potentially be sacrificing in the process.
Reasons for hope
A dual-threat quarterback
The offense had a different dynamic to it when Ryan Agnew was the starter last season. He’s got work to do but is a true dual-threat. Now, he will be the unquestioned starting quarterback. His talent wouldn’t be fully utilized in their I-formation offense and the best coaches scheme to get the most of our their best players. Agnew showed how talented he was when he was on the field and going to more spread concepts will allow San Diego State to get the most of out his talent.
Highly-rated recruits in the passing game
They have some big tight-end recruits in the past few classes with Daniel Bellinger, Nic McTear, and Anthony Landphere. Also, the Aztecs have brought in many talented wide-receivers, and they need to be targeted. Look for JR Justice, Kobe Smith, and perhaps even Timothy Wilson to factor heavily in the offense in upcoming years. There’s no reason they can’t scheme these players to get the ball in space and make plays through short quick passes, similar to what Utah State was able to do with great success this past season.
Interestingly enough, San Diego State’s last opponent laid out a great blueprint for the Aztecs to follow, according to Long’s quotes in the article above. In the bowl game, Ohio was able to run the ball effectively against them while still employing three and four WR sets. That’s what SDSU hopes to emulate. Being able to be in formations where they can adjust the play based on how the defense is lining up or having options depending on reads will make the Aztecs more unpredictable, which will increase their potential to be more dangerous.
Reasons for concern
The strength and depth of their running backs
The offense that produced Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny wants to switch things up? The team that still has Chase Jasmin, Jordan Byrd, Zidane Thomas and has Justin Dinka coming in wants to run the ball less? They annually have one of the most talented running rooms in the conference and maybe the country and using them less won’t make good use of the depth at the position.
An offensive line built to dominate the run game
This isn’t to say they won’t be good or even great in the pass-blocking aspect of the position. However, nearly every offensive lineman was brought to San Diego State because of their ability to be a weapon in the run game. Again, they possess the personnel to excel in certain aspects of the game but are moving away from those aspects. Will their personnel be able to adapt and succeed?
Losing their mystique
The title above is, of course, a funny jab at Coach Long’s comments about Boise State losing their mystique from a few years ago, but it is relevant here as well. A dominant run game is their calling-card, their identity, it’s the heart of who they are as a program. If they do less of what they are very good at, isn’t that shooting themselves in the foot? Are they lowering their ceiling as an offense by moving away from what they are good at?
Is Coach Long tipping his hand by telling the world they still want to run but are just disguising the run in different formations? It would make sense to expect them to install a heavy dose of everyone’s favorite term, RPOs (which means run-pass options.... drink) next season. It’s easy to see how it would benefit them.
Odd, interesting point on how going spread will help them know how the defenses will line up against them. However, it also lets defenses understand how they will line up and in some ways, may make SDSU lose their edge.
Their goal is to continue to be able to run the ball early, often, and effectively. However, when opposing defenses begin
Your turn: What are your initial thoughts? Will the change end up helping or hurting them?